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Politics Lawyer's testimony charts Health Minister's considerable control over Ornge

Former Ornge Chairman Rainer Beltzner while testifying with the Ontario Government Standing Commitee on Public Accounts at Queens Park, Toronto April 25 2012.

Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and M

A former legal adviser to Ornge has challenged Health Minister Deb Matthew's assertions that she did not have the tools to intervene in the affairs of the province's air ambulance service.

Lynne Golding, a partner at law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, played a key role in drafting a performance agreement in 2005 that gave Ornge a monopoly over all aspects of the province's air ambulance service.

Testifying on Wednesday at an all-party legislative committee looking into problems at Ornge, Ms. Golding contradicted Ms. Matthews, who has repeatedly blamed the "weak" performance agreement for the fact that the air ambulance service operated without enough oversight from her ministry.

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The agreement itself contains more than enough powers, including the ability to assume control of Ornge's dispatch centre, if there are concerns about patient safety, Ms. Golding said. As well, she said, the government controls the purse strings at Ornge, giving it added clout over the organization.

"As chief funder," Ms. Golding said, Ms. Matthews had "great moral suasion over Ornge."

Faskens acted as Ornge's major legal adviser until last February, when the scandal-plagued service's new management sought competitive bids for its legal work. Ornge, which receives $150-million in government funding a year, paid fees totalling $9.5-million to Fasken, which billed 22,000 hours.

Part of Faskens' advice involved transferring former Ornge CEO Chris Mazza's employment to a for-profit subsidiary – a move that shielded his $1.4-million salary from the province's annual disclosure for public-sector employees.

Ms. Golding said she and Guy Giorno, another Faskens lawyer, concluded that Dr. Mazza's salary, which she described as "outrageous," did not have to be disclosed if he was employed by a for-profit entity.

But Ms. Golding said she and Mr. Giorno warned Ornge that the government could pass a regulation "at the stroke of a pen," requiring the private entity to comply with the province's salary disclosure rules.

Documents tabled at the hearing also reveal that a member of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's inner circle was paid $107,887 to provide strategic and public policy advice to Ornge.

Don Guy, a former chief of staff to Mr. McGuinty who left the Premier's Office in July, 2006 to run the Liberals' re-election campaigns in 2007 and 2011, was initially retained in November, 2007 by Alfred Apps, a Faskens' lawyer at the time.

Mr. Guy said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail that Mr. Apps approached him regarding the consolidation of Ornge's financial records on to the province's books. Mr. Guy said he advised Mr. Apps that "there was no point in engaging in a lobbying effort to try to stop it."

Subsequently, Mr. Guy said, Faskens retained him to monitor media developments and issues related to Ornge. He said he ended his engagement in March, 2010 because of other time commitments. He is scheduled to testify at the committee on May 2.

The committee also heard from former Ornge chairman Rainer Beltnzer, who resigned along with other directors shortly after the Ontario Provincial Police launched a criminal probe into whether any taxpayers' money was used by the private, for-profit entities.

If that happened, Mr. Beltzner said, it would have been without the board's knowledge. "The board's absolute, unequivocal directive to Ornge management was that no public funds were to be used for the operations of the for-profit side of the company," he said.

Mr. Beltzner defended Ornge's compensation – he himself earned a retainer of $200,000 – saying the board hired independent consultants to conduct an "exhaustive study."

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