Sunday, September 27, 2009

Two more quit scandal-ridden eHealth board

Hudak charges that premier allows 'Liberal friends to sneak out back door' ahead of auditor's report

Sep 24, 2009 04:30 AM
Rob Ferguson
Queen's Park Bureau
Two members of the board at eHealth Ontario – including a prominent Liberal – have quit, just before more heads are expected to roll over a spending scandal at the troubled agency.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the timing of the departures is suspicious, with the auditor general's report on the expense account scandal due early next month and results from more Tory freedom of information requests on untendered contracts on tap for next week.

"We'd like to know exactly what circumstances suddenly changed," he told the Legislature yesterday, comparing the departures with the recent firing of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. chief executive Kelly McDougald earlier this month.

"Why is the premier allowing his Liberal friends to sneak out the back door rather than making a big show like he did with the OLG?"

Leaving the board at the provincial electronic health records agency are Geoff Smith, a former chair of the Ontario Liberal Fund, and Khalil Barsoum, who was widely criticized for charging taxpayers $4,600 for flights to Toronto from his Florida vacation home for board meetings.

Premier Dalton McGuinty deflected Hudak's questions to Health Minister David Caplan, who said he did not know why the two men were leaving, other than for personal reasons.

"It is with regret that we have accepted their resignations," Caplan said, noting the departures first revealed yesterday by Hudak were not requested by the government.

"This is like Hogan's Heroes," shouted New Democrat MPP Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay), referring to the 1960s comedy about a dim-witted sergeant at a German prisoner-of-war camp run by an ineffective commandant. "We've got Schultz and Klink ... `I know nothing.'"

Smith, whose last major fundraiser for the Liberals was a March dinner, told the Star he resigned effective July 6 because his position as chief executive of construction firm EllisDon required more time, given the challenges of the recession.

"During the period of time I was on the eHealth board, I did not feel I was doing either job well enough, and I therefore resigned from the eHealth Board in order to focus on my day job."

Barsoum, a retired IBM executive, formally submitted his resignation early this month after tipping his hand weeks earlier, said new eHealth chair Rita Burak, who was brought in by the government after the scandal exploded last spring and resulted in the departure of then-chief executive Sarah Kramer.

As for the reimbursement of his flight receipts, "he took advice from the people of the day and he in good faith submitted his expenses and they were paid," Burak said.

Hudak said the Conservative freedom of information requests include a search for any details of untendered contracts awarded to EllisDon by the government.

Caplan suggested there aren't any, and noted the company is one of several building new hospitals in the province, all jobs awarded through a public bidding process.

Toronto Star

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