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Tories call Ornge helicopter lease shady

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TORONTO—Ontario’s Opposition said yesterday that there was something “shady” about a move by the Ornge air ambulance service to lease a helicopter from an Italian firm under investigation in a kickback scandal.

It’s been four years since police started investigating a web of companies set up by Chris Mazza, the former head of the Ornge air ambulance service, and allegations of kickbacks in the purchase of nine helicopters from AgustaWestland.

The Progressive Conservatives pounced yesterday on word that Ornge was about to sign a new lease deal to rent another helicopter from AgustaWestland’s parent company, Finmeccanica, S.P.A.

“I can’t believe they’re letting the fox back in the hen house,” said Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown.

“There’s so many ethical concerns about the negotiations with this company,” he added.

Brown rejected the government’s claims that only AgustaWestland had the right type of helicopter for lease, saying a quick check on Google found 29 similar aircraft were available.

“There is only one word to describe Ornge’s new deal with AgustaWestland, and that’s ‘shady,’” he said. “Why are they still dealing with AgustaWestland, the company that’s the subject of this OPP investigation?”

Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the leased helicopter will replace two aging Sikorski choppers used as air ambulances out of Moosonee, and will match the rest of Ontario’s air ambulance fleet from AgustaWestland.

“The opportunity to lease this helicopter ... was a responsible and prudent decision that will result in better quality of services, better reliability and better patient care for the people in the Moosonee region,” he said.

Ornge said it’ll be easier to have pilots all flying the same helicopters instead of having two old Sikorskis when the rest of the fleet was AgustaWestland AW139s.

“This will allow Ornge to utilize the entire fleet of pilots and mechanics who are trained and experienced with AW139 so that the pilot pool is larger and more available than the (Sikorski) SK76 trained pilots and crew,” the company said in a letter to the government.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Liberals should have realized that people would be “outraged” to see Ornge dealing with AgustaWestland while it remains the subject of a police investigation into kickback allegations.

“They completely missed the mark on this one and it shows that their arrogance has no bounds,” said Horwath. “It is out of touch for this government to go ahead with another deal with a company that is under such a cloud of suspicion with the Ornge air ambulance scandal.”

The Tories wrote OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes on Monday suggesting he add the notice about Ornge entering into another contract with AgustaWestland “in furtherance of that investigation.”

“Given that it has now been four years since the opening of the investigation, I am sure you can appreciate that these recent developments will only serve to remind Ontarians that so many questions remain unanswered,” wrote Brown.

“With full respect for the importance of due diligence in the police investigation, if there is anything you could share with the public at this time, it would be greatly appreciated.”

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