Ontario WSIB boss in hot water

ANTONELLA ARTUSO, QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU CHIEF

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

TORONTO -- The Ontario PCs are questioning lobster dinners and exotic travel expensed by Workplace Safety and Insurance Board chairman Steve Mahoney who made more than $140,000 last year for what they dubbed "part-time" work.

PC MPP Christine Elliott said Freedom of Information documents raise serious questions about the WSIB chairman's expense habits.

"He may be part-time, but Mr. Mahoney billed over $140,000 last year," Elliott said in the legislature referring to his per diems.

The WSIB chairman also expensed for limos, mileage, meals, travel to China, Australia, Hong Kong, and for a GPS system while in Myrtle Beach, she said.

Mahoney told Sun Media he was reimbursed for about $25,000 in expenses last year -- all work-related.

He said he has paid back almost $15,000 over three years in expenses that were questioned either by internal WSIB auditors or by himself, such as alcohol that he was entitled to claim but opted to repay.

"I think it's unfair," he said of the criticism. "My per diems and my expenses -- I stand behind every single nickel of them. I have more than obeyed the rules."

Labour Minister Peter Fonseca said the expenses were allowed within the existing policy, but the government has now introduced stricter rules for all its agencies, boards and commissions (known as ABCs).

"If the chair felt that there was any expense that was in question, that had come out publicly or in any other way, the chair took it on his own to pay those back," Fonseca told reporters.

"What I can tell you is the chair is well aware of the new environment, and that the policy has changed and expenses that were allowable in the past are not allowed today."

The FOI documents show that Mahoney expensed a $313.88 dinner at Lobster on the Wharf in P.E.I. on Oct. 19, 2007, including three "lazyman's lobsters" for $101.97, oysters, mussels, halibut, pie and $40 tip for Mahoney, three board members and two other guests.

At the Shore Club in Vancouver last year, Mahoney expensed dinner for himself, chairmen of other provincial workmen's compensation outfits, and board members and staff.

The $526 bill covered the fishy gamut from crab cakes to rainbow trout.

A dinner/meeting with WSIB staff in 2007 cost $574 and included rack of lamb, lobster and N.Y. sirloin.

A $540 restaurant bill in Ottawa that same year was not itemized.

The WSIB, which compensates injured workers, was charged $225.99 to buy Mahoney work boots in March 2008, and in South Carolina last December, the agency picked up the $272.28 cost of a GPS unit.

Mahoney said his GPS was smashed on the business flight down, and he considers it an essential tool for his work.

Elliott said the Liberal government promises to keep a tight rein on spending but then just apologizes when caught out and changes the policy.

Liberal cabinet ministers have repeatedly vowed to keep WSIB spending in check.

In 2004, then labour minister Chris Bentley forced out Tory-appointed WSIB chairman Glen Wright over allegations of questionable spending. Bentley vowed at the time to bring in a new regime and hold the agency to greater account.

And last year, former Labour Minister Brad Duguid promised to call Mahoney after it was revealed that he booked a swank Ottawa restaurant to lobby federal politicians.

"We're running a very tight ship in this government and our agencies have to do the same," Duguid said in May 2008.

The current labour minister did not indicate he would replace Mahoney, but said there are new rules in place to ensure greater transparency and accountability at the WSIB.

ANTONELLA.ARTUSO@SUNMEDIA.CA


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