Health Minister Deb Matthew's claims about lack of power over ORNGE called into question
London Community News
By Tanya Talaga/Torstar News Service
Ontario’s integrity commissioner has raised the possibility that former federal Liberal party president Alfred Apps lobbied for ORNGE without registering, the Star has learned.
In a letter to Apps on Feb. 3, 2012 regarding correspondence with Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office and two senior Ministry of Health officials, Integrity Commissioner Lynn Morrison said “it is my opinion that when you were communicating with public office holders to arrange a meeting, you were engaged in lobbying and should have registered.”
At the time, Apps was a lawyer at Fasken Martineau who worked on behalf of ORNGE. On Wednesday, Fasken partner Lynn Golding told an all-party legislative committee investigating ORNGE that the firm billed 22,000 hours of legal advice.
Fasken Martineau’s regional managing partner, Martin Denyes, had requested an advisory opinion from Morrison about “whether certain activities” Apps was engaged in were lobbying within the meaning of the Lobbyists Registration Act, the Feb. 3 letter states.
Apps told the Star that Morrison’s inquiry referred to emails Apps sent in Dec., 2010 and it was “based entirely on the assumption that I or Faskens was compensated” for sending emails.
“Neither I nor Faskens were compensated for the time spent on the emails in question and I was not engaged as a lobbyist consultant to charge fees for such purposes,” he wrote in an email to the Star.
Morrison wrote that she assumed “Mr. Apps (through Fasken) was paid by ORNGE for the activities evidenced in the emails” and if that assumption was incorrect her opinion would change.
Last week, Apps told the public accounts committee probing high salaries and questionable payments at the air ambulance service that he “never lobbied this government for anything in respect to ORNGE.”
The law firm made $9,547,439 total from 2003 to 2012 on fees billed to ORNGE entities, documents obtained Wednesday show.
Golding is a member of the Conservative Party of Canada; she is also married to Treasury Board president Tony Clement.
Golding also said the Ministry of Health had all the power it needed over ORNGE and she had “no idea” how Health Minister Deb Matthews got the idea she didn’t have what she needed to control the service.
Last month, Auditor General Jim McCarter slammed the provincial government for throwing $50 million in funding increases at ORNGE over five years but not checking how the money was being spent.
It was also revealed at the hearing Wednesday that Don Guy, director of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s election campaign, billed Fasken $107,887.50 for consulting on ORNGE when he was out of government.
Former ORNGE board chair Rainer Beltzner also spoke to the committee Wednesday. He said he never discussed ORNGE-related business with his daughter, Carrie Anne Brunet, a junior executive at the service.
A Star exclusive on Wednesday revealed Brunet and Kelly Long, the girlfriend of ORNGE founder Dr. Chris Mazza, did the small amount of research that brought the air ambulance’s for-profit arm a $6.7 million payment. Using Google and other tools, the pair investigated possibilities for Agusta Westland and determined that Brazil and Saudia Arabia were two places that needed air ambulance services.
Beltzner, a chartered accountant, was briefly asked about the controversial $6.7-million payment from the Italian helicopter firm AgustaWestland. The payment was made after ORNGE purchased 12 helicopters at a cost of $144 million, a deal financed with taxpayers’ money.
That payment is now under investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police.
When PC MPP Frank Klees asked Beltzner how Brunet got her job, Beltzner said “she applied for a position at ORNGE in response to an advertisement.”
Brunet had been “out of the house for many, many years” and working in a variety of responsible positions, Beltzner added.
When Klees asked him about the $6.7-million “consulting fee,” Beltzner responded, “My daughter and I did not discuss ORNGE business.”
A warrant from Speaker of the legislature, Dave Levac, has been delivered for Mazza to appear on May 16.
Matthews has repeatedly said she was “lied to on several occasions, on a variety of subjects, by the senior leadership at ORNGE including the chairman of the board.”
Eventually — after a series of investigative articles in the Toronto Star — Matthews said she told the board of directors, many of whom were also paid “retainers” as high as $200,000, “their house of cards was about to fall.”
The Beltzner-led board eventually resigned — but Matthews could not force them to, claiming she did not have the power as the entity was federally incorporated. Once the board resigned in January, Matthews sought greater legislative powers to give her better control over ORNGE.