Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Ask someone in government or the health sector about the Ornge scandal, and you'll get a lot of eye-rolling. With its bizarre schemes to leverage public dollars for private profit, Ontario's air-ambulance service spiralled so extraordinarily out of control that it's largely seen as an outlier.

But just because Ornge was an extreme case doesn't mean there's nothing to learn from it. With a committee of MPPs set to resume its investigation on Wednesday, here are a few things the government should have learned already about what to do differently in future, to better defend public dollars and trust.

Draw clear lines between public and private

Story continues below advertisement

At the core of the scandal is a blurring of lines between for-profit and not-for-profit operations. That led to Ornge making a big commitment to a manufacturing contract – then accepting a private consulting contract from the manufacturer. It also allowed former CEO Chris Mazza to keep his exorbitant salary away from public view, even though public dollars went toward it.

There's nothing inherently wrong with public-private partnerships; many have worked out well for Ontario. But when a fledgling company is pledging to run parallel public and private operations – in Ornge's case, accepting $150-million annually to serve the public health system, while also trying to build a private client base – there need to be firewalls.

Get serious about corporate governance

Ornge's board of directors has been accused of not looking closely enough at what came before it. But it's hardly unique for directors – particularly those who sit on multiple boards – to be unengaged in day-to-day operations, and unwilling or unable to ask necessary questions.

In future, government should make sure that its companies, agencies or partners have people in place to hold executive leadership accountable. One option, a health-policy veteran suggests, is to put a senior public official – a deputy minister, for instance – on the board. That way, if nothing else, the government will have eyes and ears at the table if things go off the rails.

Be realistic about political accountability

It's no great mystery why Health Minister Deb Matthews and top officials in the Premier's office overlooked early warnings about Ornge. They have enough headaches already; they weren't looking for another one involving a relatively small dollar figure, at a company most people had never heard of, involving complaints that would have taken weeks to sort through.

Story continues below advertisement

That's an explanation, but not an excuse. In fact, it's a consequence of too few people being entrusted to make key decisions. If the highest officials can't be expected to keep tabs on every file – and, realistically, they can't – then they need to delegate.

A related question, unlikely to be answered any time soon, is whether one minister should really be in charge of nearly half of government spending.

Crack down on unregistered lobbying

"I never lobbied," former Liberal Party of Canada president Alf Apps said before committee recently, moments after acknowledging he had called a senior government official to inquire about setting up a meeting with Ornge executives.

It's well known around government that there are senior Liberals who trade on their influence with the government while passing themselves off as consultants or legal counsel, avoiding the scrutiny that comes with registering to lobby. Whether Mr. Apps fits that description is open to interpretation. But he at least helped reignite the question of what a lobbyist is exactly.

Beware of fast-talking people with all the answers

Story continues below advertisement

Former health minister George Smitherman, who had a thirst for change but little appetite for details, was especially susceptible to a sales pitch like the one he got from Dr. Mazza. But as they try to flatten health-spending increases, while maintaining or improving on the current level of service, governments could still fall into that trap.

Some risk and experimentation are healthy, and the pendulum shouldn't swing too far the other way. But if you've seen the "Monorail" episode of The Simpsons, you know the danger of someone slick selling you something that sounds too good to be true.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies