TORONTO - The head of Ontario's embattled workplace
insurance agency should not have held a lobbying session at one of Ottawa's
most expensive downtown steakhouses, opposition critics said yesterday, calling
the affair an inappropriate use of public money.
Conservative MPP Tim Hudak said Steve Mahoney, chairman of
the Workplace Safety Insurance Board, was trying to "show off" to former
colleagues in Ottawa when he held a reception at Hy's Steakhouse on May 5. Mr.
Mahoney is a former Liberal MP and MPP who served as secretary of state for
Crown corporations in the Jean Chrétien government.
"They went to the swankiest bar in all of Ottawa, the
Martini Ranch at Hy's Steakhouse, so Mr. Mahoney could show off what a big man
on campus he was to his former Liberal friends," Mr. Hudak said. "It was an
inappropriate use of funds that were supposed to be for injured workers."
Mr. Mahoney yesterday said he held the two-hour reception
on May 5 to lobby federal MPs on two issues: the continued recognition of a
national day of mourning for workers killed on the job, and the addition of the
WSIB as a secured creditor in business bankruptcy.
He said the reception cost less than $1,000 and was
attended by Conservative MPs, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, whip Jay Hill and
members of the finance minister's office. Speaker of the House Peter Milliken
was there, as were fellow Liberal MPs John McKay, Karen Redman and Wayne
Mr. Mahoney said the expense was "money well invested" and
insisted he was not spending taxpayer dollars.
"There's no taxpayer money at all in this," he said. "The
WSIB is not funded by taxpayers, they're funded by employer premiums."
However, Labour Minister Brad Duguid, who appeared caught
off guard by reports about the event, described the WSIB as very much a
guardian of public dollars.
"I will be speaking to him that indeed that the message is
sent that we want to make sure that any expenditure of taxpayers dollars is
done responsibly," Mr. Duguid said.
Mr. Mahoney said he personally paid for a portion of the
evening's expense. "Any alcohol that was consumed was all paid for by me. I
held a private dinner afterwards and I picked up the tab. ... It was a personal
expense by me."
Other critics wondered about that logic.
"If he can pick up the booze, he should pick up the
steak," said New Democratic MPP Peter Kormos, who, along with leader Howard
Hampton, is calling for Mr. Mahoney to resign from his post. "Why does he feel
guilty about paying the liquor portion to the WSIB premium payers, but he
doesn't feel guilty about charging 50 steaks?"
Mr. Mahoney, who was appointed to the helm of the WSIB in
April 2006, came under fire last month for a WSIB program that has given
millions of dollars in rebates to companies prosecuted and fined by another arm
of the government for workplace deaths and injuries.
In many cases, the value of the rebates far exceeded the
amount of the fines. Premier Dalton McGuinty has called some of those
discoveries, unearthed by the Toronto Star, an "embarrassment."