TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
This is from the Star.
Note that he chaired this board as a volunteer. He still has his paying job of almost 300 thousand a year. These people seem to have close links to one another and perhaps to the Ontario Liberals. Now the replacement for Hudson served under Mike Harris. Maybe a Conservative groupie replacement is a sign of new co-operation between the Ontario Conservatives and Liberals mirroring the Harper Iggie deal!
Embattled eHealth chair Dr. Alan Hudson will be replaced.
June 17, 2009 Rob Ferguson amd Tanya TalagaQueen's Park Bureau
Stung by the eHealth Ontario spending scandal, Premier Dalton McGuinty replaced Dr. Alan Hudson as chair of the troubled agency and outlawed untendered contracts for highly paid consultants who can no longer expense "out-of-pocket" goodies like tea and Choco Bites.
Hudson is the latest high-profile domino to fall at the province's electronic health records organization, where he headed the board as a volunteer. But he will continue to lead the government's efforts to reducing waiting times in cancer and other areas at a salary of $292,653 last year.
McGuinty said today the changes come because taxpayers "have good reason to be upset" about loose financial controls that saw about $5 million in contracts given to consulting firms — including one, Courtyard Group, with close Liberal ties get $2 million in business — without competing bids and saw several consultants paid $2,700 a day expensing snacks and meals.
"We're going to move to close those loopholes," a chastened premier told a news conference, noting that the new rules will apply "immediately" at all government ministries and agencies, such as the LCBO, Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.
"I take responsibility for this. We should have had tougher rules in place."
The scandal has already claimed the job of eHealth chief executive Sarah Kramer, who left over a week ago amid controversy over her $114,000 bonus approved by Hudson in March after she'd been on the job just five months. Kramer, who defended the consulting contracts and the expenses of consultants, was paid $380,000 a year and got a $317,000 severance package.
McGuinty again rejected opposition calls to fire Health Minister David Caplan, who oversees eHealth, saying the problem with consultant policies is government wide.
"The buck stops with me."
While he is standing by Caplan for now, McGuinty, who is expected to shuffle his cabinet soon, was also firmly behind Hudson as recently as nine days ago in Stratford, saying, "I have every reason to continue to have confidence."
Today, that tune had changed as the premier revealed Hudson had resigned. His replacement is Rita Burak, a career civil servant who was cabinet secretary to former premier Mike Harris.
"I believe he's done the honourable thing," McGuinty said of Hudson, a neurosurgeon. "He's made it clear that he cannot, at this point in time, bring the kind of leadership necessary at eHealth that we need."
Reached at an eHealth board meeting earlier in the day, a shaken-sounding Hudson declined comment about his move, first reported on theStar.com.
His departure and the closed loopholes did not go far enough for the opposition parties who hounded the government daily on eHealth before the Legislature adjourned for its summer break earlier this month.
"It is obviously a desperate attempt to contain the mess," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, noting that just last week McGuinty was saying no further action would be taken until ongoing investigations of eHealth are completed by Ontario Auditor-General Jim McCarter and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
"Those things are still out there."
McGuinty said he is "very open" to making more changes depending on the recommendations that result from the two investigations.
The Progressive Conservatives called the closed loopholes "too little, too late" and maintained Caplan has to go because the problems occurred on his watch.
"To employ consultants who never had to bid, who were billing for time that they spent talking to themselves, is patently ridiculous," said MPP Peter Shurman (Thornhill).
Horwath said it's inexcusable that eHealth and a predecessor agency have spent at least $700 million to develop electronic health records for Ontario patients and yet a full system remains years away.
It's not surprising McGuinty turned to the American-born Burak, 62, to clean up the mess. Aside from heading the Ontario public service for Harris for five years ending in 2000, she was chair of the board at Hydro One after its executive salary and spending scandal and has a reputation for running a tight ship.
Under the new policies, consultants to government ministries and agencies will no longer be able to bill taxpayers for hospitality, incidentals and food expenses, but can charge for flights, train and car travel and hotel rooms.
McGuinty said it's tough to legislate "common sense" but urged consultants to think before filing their expense claims.
"If you couldn't sit down in front of a family at the breakfast table and say, `I'm submitting the bill for this or for that' and look them straight in the eye, then maybe you shouldn't be submitting that bill."
Aware that it is running behind on efforts to build a system of electronic health records for Ontarians - aimed at saving lives by minimizing potentially deadly prescription errors - eHealth had been awarding contracts to consulting firms like Courtyard without competitive bidding under rules that allowed such actions on urgent matters.
McGuinty said "there is a way to move expeditiously" on contracts while still seeking competitive bids.
As the Star revealed Saturday, Courtyard was awarded another $435,000 in provincial work last year without having to compete for the deal. It was a contract for the ministry of training, colleges and universities to assess the capital needs of colleges and universities.
McGuinty also said he's aware that some government agencies, such as Cancer Care Ontario, remain outside the jurisdiction of freedom of information legislation that would allow citizens to submit requests to see contracts and other details, and he's not sure there is "good rationale" for that.
"There's probably more work to do," said McGuinty, whose government has already expanded salary disclosure laws to agencies like Cancer Care Ontario, Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation.