KITCHENER, Ont. - Ottawa has given the provinces a lot of money to create electronic health records and Ontario should take a look at "rectifying problems" in that area, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday as he took an apparent retaliatory swipe at Premier Dalton McGuinty.
The thinly veiled reference to McGuinty's woes over eHealth Ontario, a provincial agency that awarded lucrative contracts to consultants without competitive tenders, came one day after McGuinty slammed Ottawa for failing to help a Toronto woman stranded in Kenya.
Harper defended his government's actions Thursday, saying his government has asked the Canadian Border Services Agency for a "full accounting" of what happened in the case of Suuad Hagi Mohamud - who was expected to return home this weekend.
But the prime minister couldn't resist taking a partisan jab at McGuinty and a growing scandal over eHealth, an issue not raised by anyone else at the news conference.
"Since you raised the provincial government, the federal government had in its budget considerable funds available for the Health Infoway - the expansion and pushing forward of the project to make health records in this country electronic," Harper said.
"So I obviously would encourage the provincial government to get on with rectifying the problems in that area."
The value of the untendered contracts handed out by eHealth was eventually revealed to be around $16 million, with the biggest ones going to companies the opposition parties say have ties to McGuinty's Liberal government.
The agency is currently looking for a new CEO after its previous chief executive, Sarah Kramer, was abruptly removed from the job in June.
Opposition parties are demanding an inquiry and the resignation of Health Minister David Caplan over the eHealth scandal.
A spokeswoman for federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff pointed out that, on Monday, Harper told ABC News that he avoids directing the provinces on health care.
Transcripts from the interview show that Harper says: "I've taken the view as the federal prime minister (that)... I don't lecture the provinces publicly on how they should be running their health-care system."
"What we try and do is work with them in a co-operative manner so we can be helpful in addressing the challenges," Harper said.
The federal and Ontario governments have traded barbs in the past, but the relationship appeared to heal over joint efforts to save Ontario's ailing automotive industry.
The ceasefire ended Wednesday when McGuinty lashed out at Ottawa over its handling of Mohamud's case.
The Somalian-born woman, who was visiting her mother in Kenya, ended up stranded in Nairobi after authorities said that her lips did not match her four-year-old passport photo.
Canadian consular officials called her an impostor, voided her passport and turned her case over to Kenya for prosecution.
Officials maintained that she was not who she claimed to be, even after Mohamud handed over numerous pieces of identification, offered fingerprints and finally demanded her DNA be tested.
It wasn't until the genetic tests confirmed her identity Monday that the federal government began preparing emergency travel documents that would permit her to return to Toronto and reunite with her 12-year-old son.
All charges against Mohamud are expected to be dropped in a Kenyan court Friday. She is expected to board a flight back to Toronto that evening.