Sunday, June 22, 2008

Controversy dogs minister switching jobs

TORONTO -- George Smitherman, Ontario's new Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, has left behind one controversy and stepped into another amid questions over expected cost overruns associated with the province's multibillion-dollar nuclear expansion program.

Mr. Smitherman, 44, assumed his new duties yesterday overseeing the government's plans to build two new nuclear reactors as well as $60-billion in spending on transit, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure projects.

He spent his last days as the province's Health Minister fielding questions from the opposition about the outbreak of a highly contagious superbug that has claimed the lives of more than 250 hospital patients in Ontario. This week, Mr. Smitherman resisted calls by Ombudsman André Marin to give his office the power to investigate hospitals.

David Caplan, who succeeded Mr. Smitherman as Health Minister, also resisted calls yesterday to appoint an independent expert. The full extent of the C. difficile problem will not be known until the end of September, when all 154 hospitals in Ontario will be required to report on the superbug.

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