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Liberals under fire over former Ornge CEO’s $9.3-million compensation

Ousted Ornge CEO Chris Mazza speaks on July 18, 2012 in Toronto. Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Leader says the governing Liberals should get back every dollar that was paid to Mazza.

Ian Willms/The Canadian Press

Revelations that Chris Mazza collected $9.3-million before being axed as Ornge's chief executive officer amid a criminal probe of the air ambulance service's finances sparked another firestorm for the Ontario government on Monday.

The Liberals pleaded ignorance of the figure reported by The Toronto Star and could not explain why the source documents cited by the newspaper – prepared by Ornge and provided to government auditors nearly two years ago – apparently did not make it to the legislative committee probing the scandal.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the governing Liberals should get back every dollar that was paid to Mr. Mazza.

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He said he can't fathom why Health Minister Deb Matthews should keep her job after so much public money went to Mazza.

Matthews said Ornge's former managers hid salaries from the government. But she also admitted she had not looked at the documents about Mazza's salary before they were sent to the Ontario Provincial Police in February 2012.

Mazza outsmarted her, she said.

"I am disgusted," Matthews said. "I am honestly disgusted the more I hear about what this man and his board did."

It has been the common refrain throughout the Ornge scandal from the Liberals, whom the Auditor-General criticized for failing to oversee Ornge despite giving it $730-million over five years and allowing it to borrow an additional $300-million.

The Liberals insist Ornge, which receives about $150-million a year from the province, went rogue with a web of for-profit companies and questionable business deals, as well as exorbitant salaries and lavish expenses.

The committee has heard that the Liberals signed off on the for-profit venture – which went nowhere – but didn't pay attention to what was going on. Those subsidiaries are now bankrupt.

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Matthews' comments incensed the opposition parties, who said they can't believe Mazza's true compensation is only coming out now.

"We as a parliamentary committee requested every piece of information relating to Mazza's salary," Progressive Conservative Frank Klees said "It obviously was hidden from us as well. We question why. Why does this government continue to defend this man?"

The Liberals also hid information from the committee investigating the costly cancellation of two gas plants, he said. It took drastic measures – including a contempt motion – to pry it from their grasp.

Instead of making sure that health-care dollars were going towards saving lives, the Liberals allowed millions to go right into Mazza's pocket, said the New Democrats, who've been asking about his salary since 2010.

"The rules were in place against that, but the government chose not to enforce them," NDP health critic France Gelinas said in the legislature. "See no evil, hear no evil."

Premier Kathleen Wynne said her government isn't hiding anything.

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"I'm not defending this man [Mazza] or his actions," she said in the legislature. "But we have made huge changes at Ornge … that address the issues that were raised by this set of circumstances. But to suggest that I'm defending those actions is absolutely not accurate."

Anyone earning more than $100,000 on the public payroll is supposed to have their salary disclosed in the so-called sunshine list of Ontario's highest paid public sector workers. But the $9.3-million Mazza reportedly collected over six years was not made public.

"How many other salaries in this government are there where we're only getting partial disclosure of how much they're really getting paid?" Klees said.

Mazza, who is currently working at a hospital, is suing Ornge for $1-million in what he alleges are unpaid bonuses that he is owed.

"This man has no business collecting one more nickel from the Ministry of Health, and yet he's practising in the emergency ward in Thunder Bay," Klees said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Mazza has shown "complete disrespect for the public purse."

The hospital and Matthews should watch his billings very carefully, she said.

Last August, the all-party committee heard that Mazza received at least $1.4-million in compensation, including bonuses. He also received about $1.2-million in loans in a single year, according to documents tabled with the committee.

By comparison, the province has paid its top-earning manager, Ontario Power Generation's president and CEO, about $12-million over the past six years.

Mazza has maintained that the board signed off on his compensation package. But former Ornge directors told the committee that they were deceived by Mazza and top Ornge executives.

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