This certainly will not help the Ontario Liberal party in the polls. It is a sad sordid story of connections rather than efficiency determining who got contracts and the result was fat paychecks but little progress. A lot of the blame must go to those charged with government oversight of the processes. It seems that the government approved in many instances of contracting processes that went against their own guidelines.
$1B waste of money: McCarter
Grits ripped over eHealth spending
By ANTONELLA ARTUSO, JONATHAN JENKINS AND BRYN WEESE, QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU
Last Updated: 8th October 2009, 5:32am
Auditor General Jim McCar-ter's special report on the provincial government's efforts to bring in an electronic health records system concluded that taxpayers didn't get good value for their $1 billion, that in fact, hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted in the effort.
As expected, David Caplan resigned as health minister yesterday, taking responsibility for the lack of oversight, and opposition leaders quickly turned their wrath on former health minister George Smitherman.
Premier Dalton McGuinty, facing arguably the most difficult challenge in his government's six years in office, acknowledged he had been impatient to get an electronic health records system up and running.
"I never said anything about breaking the rules," McGuinty said.
McCarter's probe found eHealth Ontario and its predecessor, Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA), suffered from a lack of strategic planning from the beginning.
The goal was clear -- a secure, private lifetime health record for each Ontarian available electronically to all authorized health-care providers -- but there was no road map to get there.
Health ministry staff didn't communicate well with SSHA and eHealth Ontario workers.
Projects almost never came in on time or on budget.
And hundreds of private consultants cashed fat paycheques.
"There were so many consultants, you had consultants basically approving other consultants being hired, often from their own firms," McCar-ter said. "We felt that was clearly inappropriate."
The Ministry of Health, SSHA and eHealth handed out millions of dollars worth of contracts without a competitive bidding process.
The auditors uncovered no problems with the official procurement policies other than they were rather routinely ignored.
One firm, Courtyard Group, received several sole-sourced contracts and renewals, and was awarded a $600,000 contract even though its bid price was 10 times higher than the lowest bid.
Although some of those contracts were handed out by eHealth CEO Sarah Kramer, the auditor found the government's own Management Board, made up of senior McGuinty cabinet ministers, waived tendering rules and split projects into lower-value contracts to bypass procurement requirements for eHealth projects undertaken by the Ministry of Health.
The report notes the firm being awarded this work was in communication with health ministry management about upcoming contract renewals before the requests for services were released to other providers.
"That's clearly indicative to us that somebody had the inside track," McCarter told Sun Media. "This is not how appropriate procurement practices should be handled."
The auditor wouldn't name the firm, but the Ontario health ministry confirmed the company is Courtyard Group.
John Ronson, founder of Courtyard, said in an e-mail his company will be commenting extensively today on the areas of the report that affect them.
"Including the fact that we are the anonymous firm that authored the 2009 strategy that he recognized as being critical to getting the agenda back on track," said Ronson, who served as campaign director for former Liberal leader Lyn McLeod.
Courtyard managing partner David Wattling said the company also provided "excellent value for money" in its work on the diabetes and ePrescribing strategy, having competed for and won 27 eHealth contracts in Ontario and been granted another eight sole-sourced contracts.
McCarter blamed a lack of government oversight, not party politics or personal benefits, for what happened on the eHealth file.
"Ineffective oversight and broken rules go together like a horse and carriage," McCarter said.
He noted the fledgling eHealth Ontario Agency under Kramer repeatedly ignored existing procurement rules in hiring "favoured" consultants without competitive bidding.
Kramer, shown the door when the scandal broke, committed "a judgment error" in awarding contracts without taking competitive bids, McCarter said.
A statement issued by Kramer yesterday disputes the auditor's findings, in particular challenging his assertion that there was no real "urgency" in the situation and ignoring that the "experts" she hired had relevant experience.
"Finally, the auditor general states that the board of eHealth Ontario was unaware of the procurement practices that we were following," she said. "This is simply incorrect. Indeed, the board was explicitly and acutely aware that exemption rules in the procurement policies were being followed because of the urgency of the situation."
PC Leader Tim Hudak called eHealth "a tangled and incestuous web of consultants, Liberal staffers, officials, and operatives ... This is what Dalton McGuinty's culture of entitlement is starting to look like."