Think eHealth was bad?

Lorrie Goldstein, Toronto Sun

Beware of Dalton and George on ‘green’ energy

For Ontario to blow $1 billion over seven years not delivering on electronic health (eHealth) records, as Auditor General Jim McCarter documented last week, is frightening. But here’s something just as scary.

Everything that went wrong with eHealth can just as easily go wrong with Premier Dalton McGuinty’s similarly half-baked plan to make us a “renewable” energy giant.

Right down to the fact the same cabinet minister in charge when most of the damage was done at eHealth, is now in charge of renewable energy.

That’s not David Caplan, health minister for barely a year before the eHealth scandal broke, who McGuinty threw under the bus.

It’s George Smitherman, health minister from 2003 to 2008, when the problems at eHealth were exploding, who’s now in charge of the green energy file.

Unlike Caplan, McGuinty let Smitherman keep his jobs as energy minister and deputy premier.

Smitherman’s also mused about running for Toronto mayor, although the eHealth mess, plus the fact Smitherman’s main opponent would likely be John Tory, instrumental in exposing the scandal when he was Ontario Conservative leader, has probably killed that idea.

eHealth is a case study of everything that can go wrong when a powerful politician (McGuinty) becomes enamoured of an expensive new technology he doesn’t understand and then dumps its implementation into the laps of ill-prepared public servants, with the message to just get it done.

In some ways, what happened at eHealth mirrors the federal sponsorship scandal, where public servants perceived then prime minister Jean Chretien wanted the national unity advertising initiative implemented with no “ifs ands or buts” and “broke every rule in the book” doing it, as federal Auditor General Sheila Fraser described it.

In eHealth, the added problem was the people in charge didn’t know enough about the technology to manage the project competently, and increasingly relied on an army of outside hires and high-priced consultants, thought to have the premier’s blessing, who effectively took over the management and even much of the budgeting.

DEVASTATING REPORT

As McCarter describes it in his devastating, 48-page report, the rules designed to prevent such projects from going off the rails — for example, limiting the size of contracts that can be let without public tendering and conducting regular reviews to ensure work promised is being delivered on budget — were circumvented and ignored.

Even with many “open” competitions for contracts, McCarter concluded the winners were chosen from the start, with the contract retroactively adjusted to suit them.

Worse than exploding costs and blown deadlines, the government lost sight of the goal — delivering a workable eHealth system to improve patient care by reducing fatal drug errors and medical wait times, the latter through eliminating wasteful duplication in medical testing. As a result, Ontario is now dead last among the provinces in implementing electronic health records.

No one expects the premier or his health minister to micromanage such a project.

But when things get this out of control, the failure of leadership clearly starts at the top.

And every problem with eHealth has the potential to be repeated in McGuinty’s green energy quest.

The premier is again enamoured with expensive new technologies he doesn’t understand.

SEEKING ‘EXPERT’ ADVICE

When the Liberals first won power in 2003, their own election literature revealed they didn’t know the difference between air pollution and greenhouse gases, both by-products of burning fossil fuels.

Ontario is getting “expert” advice on setting up a cap-and-trade system in carbon dioxide emissions from the same folks who created Europe’s disastrous Emissions Trading Scheme, which has driven up energy prices while doing nothing to protect the environment.

McGuinty, again with Smitherman as his line minister, is again demanding speedy results, dismissing public concerns about industrial wind factories and solar farms as “nimbyism” and promising to create 50,000 green jobs within three years, apparently no matter how much it costs in the inflated prices for energy Ontarians will pay.

You can almost see the “green” consultants circling overhead, ready to swoop in for the kill.

LORRIE.GOLDSTEIN@SUNMEDIA.CA