The opposition parties say the governing Liberals are trying to intimidate ORNGE whistleblowers at a legislative committee that’s probing the troubled air ambulance service.
The accusation came after Liberal backbencher David Zimmer questioned a former paramedic at ORNGE who tried to blow the whistle on the publicly-funded agency. Zimmer accused Trevor Kidd of being “selfish” by refusing to disclose the names of other front-line workers who have information about problems at ORNGE.
Kidd said he didn’t want to reveal the names because many ORNGE employees are still afraid that their employer will retaliate if they come forward.
He says he didn’t feel like he had the right to disclose the names when those people brought him the information despite the risks.
Progressive Conservative Frank Klees says Zimmer was trying to intimidate Kidd and other potential whistleblowers who will now be reluctant to testify.
“No wonder people aren’t coming forward,” he said.
“Any potential witness to observe Mr. Zimmer intimidating Mr. Kidd would think twice before they would certainly volunteer to come forward.”
It shows the Liberal members of the committee aren’t there to get to the bottom of the ORNGE scandal, but to defend the government, Klees said.
Earlier Tuesday, Zimmer questioned the Kidd’s commitment to patient safety by not disclosing the names of other potential whistleblowers.
“When you’re faced with this choice between doing what’s best for the air ambulance service and fixing it and getting to the bottom of it, and yet you don’t want to share some of that confidential information and confidential names who might help us with that, and you opt to protect your source,” he said.
“Do you think that’s a bit selfish of you?”
But Kidd, who quit ORNGE in 2009, said he didn’t feel he was in a position to reveal the names of people who brought him information despite the risks.
“Some people went against their spouses to provide information because they felt that information needed to get out there. But they knew they were putting their career at risk.”
Kidd said if the government provides real whistleblower protection to ORNGE employees, they will come forward without fear of retribution.
“And their careers trump the safety of Ontarians … they’d rather protect their careers than help us root out the causes of difficulties at ORNGE?” Zimmer said.
Health Minister Deb Matthews said she didn’t see the exchange and couldn’t comment on it.
ORNGE, which is under a criminal probe, has been rocked for months by allegations about questionable business deals, high executive salaries and whether public money was used for personal gain.
Auditor general Jim McCarter has criticized the government for failing to oversee ORNGE, despite giving it $730 million over five years and allowing it to borrow another $300 million.
Kidd told the committee that he quit ORNGE in disgust after the death of a teenager from northwestern Ontario.
If the girl had any hope of survival, ORNGE “robbed” her of that chance by not properly staffing their aircraft or sending them in a timely manner.
He testified that he raised red flags about ORNGE with journalists and others, but no one believed him because of Ornge’s “Mother Teresa” image.
Kidd’s father, the mayor of Temiskaming Shores, even talked to former Liberal MPP David Ramsay in 2009 and other officials in the Health Ministry about the problems at ORNGE.
Kidd said front-line workers at ORNGE are leaving “in droves” because they’re unhappy with how ORNGE is run.
His testimony comes in the wake of confidential documents showing the government investigated 26 deaths and 145 incidents involving ORNGE since 2007.
Forty of the investigations were opened this year — after the government installed new leadership at ORNGE.
In some cases, ORNGE wasn’t able to respond to calls because there were no paramedics on duty.