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Tory MPP accuses McGuinty government of Ornge cover-up

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews takes questions on the province's troubled air-ambulance service at a Queen's Parks news conference on Feb. 17, 2012.

matthew sherwood The Globe and Mail

The McGuinty government was on the defensive during the first day of the legislature's spring session, with opposition members accusing it of ignoring repeated warnings about problems at the province's air-ambulance service.

Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees called on Health Minister Deb Matthews to resign, saying in Question Period on Tuesday that he believes a criminal probe into Ornge could lead to her office – an allegation he repeated outside the chamber.

"It may well be that that criminal investigation reaches into the minister's office," he told reporters. "So there should be no impediment to that."

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Mr. Klees raised questions about Ornge 10 months ago. He has been on the outs with his caucus colleagues in recent months for defying Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak by running unsuccessfully for Speaker. But he received two standing ovations from his Tory colleagues in Question Period as he accused the government of trying to cover up the scandal swirling around Ornge.

Government officials, including Ms. Matthews, have known for at least a year that for-profit entities created by Ornge were doing business under the same roof as the publicly funded air carrier, Mr. Klees said.

Ms. Matthews called in forensic auditors in December to pore over Ornge's financial records to determine whether taxpayers' money was used for the private companies. Ornge receives $150-million a year to manage all aspects of the province's air ambulance service.

The Ontario Provincial Police launched a criminal probe last week. Mr. Klees was particularly critical of Ron McKerlie, the senior bureaucrat Ms. Matthews parachuted into Ornge as acting CEO. Mr. McKerlie warned Ornge employees during a town-hall meeting last week that if they leaked anything to the public, they would be in breach of the confidentiality provisions of their employment agreements and could be fired.

Mr. Klees told reporters that this "speaks to the fact that this government is more intent on covering up what is going on there rather than getting to the bottom of it."

Ms. Matthews told reporters that Mr. McKerlie is encouraging employees to co-operate fully with police.

"Nobody wants to jeopardize any parts of that criminal investigation," she told reporters.

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New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath also accused the government of ignoring questions that began a year ago around Ornge.

"What exactly happened during that last year?" she asked in Question Period.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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