The 2011 Michener Award finalists talk about their award winning stories and the people who helped make them happen - Michener Awards Ceremony, June 12, 2012.
The Toronto Star took readers into the heart of an unaccountable non-profit agency known as ORNGE that was receiving $150 million a year from Ontario taxpayers to run the province’s air ambulance service. Stories revealed a stunning lack of government oversight for a critical public service and demonstrated that senior managers were benefitting more than the very people the air ambulance service was supposed to help.
Good evening Your Excellencies, honoured guests and distinguished nominees.
In early 2011 an old contact called with a story of corruption, dangerous patient care and a well intended $150 million government funded agency turned juggernaut.
This became the story of ORNGE, the province of Ontario's air ambulance service. As I investigated, doors closed. The provincial government, and ORNGE itself, lied, obfuscated and went on the attack. Months in I was nowhere. Lots of smoke but no fire.
In December, working with editors Michael Cooke and Joe Hall, and lawyer Bert Bruser, we decided to publish what we did not know. ORNGE had for years kept secret the salaries of it's many top executives. News editor Jane Davenport put that on the front page and played it big.
The floodgates opened. Sources. Documents, solid leads, proof.
For me, ORNGE has come to celebrate the culture of the informed and well meaning whistleblower. Paramedics, doctors, nurses, pilots, flight controllers, and middle managers came forward. Each with a piece of a puzzle that we are still solving. Each one a member of an important agency tasked with preserving and saving lives. Each one disappointed with the state that Dr Chris Mazza and greed and an absolute abdication of government oversight had brought them to. As much as ORNGE is a failure in governance it is a victory for people with the courage to speak up.
And the stories they told!
The state of the art Italian helicopters kitted out as air ambulances. Stretchers sat so high to the roof that paramedics could not perform CPR.
Millions of dollars blown on pie in the sky ideas, lavish trips, a speedboat, orange coloured motorcycles and executive perks that included a Belgian waffle festival disguised as an executive MBA course and a top job for the boss's water ski instructor girlfriend.
The $6.7 million payment to founder Mazza's company after he used public dollars to purchase $144 million of those Italian choppers. Politicians have called that a kickback.
Police are investigating.
And when it finally came out, the secret salaries were significant. Mazza's was $1.4 million plus $1.2 million in interest free loans and advances. Patient care suffered because there was so little money to do the job ORNGE was tasked with.
ORNGE is an old fashioned newspaper story told in the public interest and we at the Star are proud to be nominated among such fabulous company.
Michener Awards Ceremony
June 12, 2012.