TORONTO—Ontario’s Liberal government is looking to put a cap on executive salaries at some of its most scandal-ridden agencies, such as air ambulance service Ornge and eHealth.
The proposed legislation began second reading Wednesday and would limit compensation to senior executives across the broader public sector, which includes hospitals, school boards, universities and colleges, community care access centres and the province’s big utilities.
If it passes second reading, Treasury Board President Deb Matthews said the government will bring in an amendment to add 64 organizations, including Ornge, eHealth, Local Health Integration Networks, Metrolinx, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. and the LCBO.
“We are serious about restoring trust in government,” she told the legislature. “The people of Ontario have a right to know how their dollars are being spent, and that includes executive compensation.”
The bill would create sector-specific frameworks for compensation, which includes salary, bonuses and severance packages, and heads of organizations would be penalized, including fines of up to $5,000, if they don’t comply.
The Liberals have come under fire in recent years over generous salaries and severance packages for executives in the public sector, including a $406,000 golden handshake for a former eHealth Ontario CEO, $9.3 million over six years for former Ornge CEO Chris Mazza and severances for Pan Am Games executives.
Matthews said the Pan Am organizing committee will not be covered by this legislation because the 2015 Games will likely be over by the time the legislation is passed and the salary frameworks are established.
The proposed legislation would also require MPPs to post online their expenses for travel out of their riding, hotels, meals and hospitality. As well, cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants, opposition leaders and staff would be required to post expenses online.
A three-year public-sector wage freeze announced in 2012 will remain in effect until the new compensation frameworks are established, Matthews said.
The opposition parties slammed the Liberals as hypocritical for proposing accountability and transparency measures, but at the same time using their majority to block the attempts of a committee on cancelled gas plants to call two more witnesses.
The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats want the justice committee _ which has been probing the Liberals’ decision to cancel two gas plants before the 2011 election, at a cost of up to $1.1 billion _ to call former Dalton McGuinty staffer Laura Miller and her computer tech boyfriend, Peter Faist.
They want to hear from them about the wiping of hard drives in the premier’s office during the transition period to Kathleen Wynne’s administration.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said allowing “the two most important witnesses of the gas plant scandals” to testify would show real transparency and accountability.
“It’s extremely, extremely hypocritical and the Liberals have shown once again that they’ll talk a good game on accountability and transparency, but when push comes to shove they will not do the right thing by the people of Ontario,” she said.
Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod said her party agrees with much of the proposed legislation, but “there is an element of hypocrisy” in not agreeing to call Miller and Faist.
“In terms of Bill 8, there are many elements, as I said, we support, but again it flies in the face of what’s happening in real terms with a real scandal that cost taxpayers $1.2 billion,” she said.
The Conservatives introduced a motion Wednesday, which was defeated by the Liberal majority, to have Miller and Faist testify at committee.
Matthews said Wednesday that it’s time to “move forward” and have the committee finally issue its report.
“We are absolutely committed to openness and transparency,” she said after question period. “Those committees have been working for three years and I think the premier’s been very clear: it’s time to get that report written and get that report out.”
Ontario Provincial Police are conducting separate investigations into Ornge and the deletion of government documents related to the cancelled gas plants.