UCP leadership candidates disagree over salary bonuses for Alberta public health officials
Several UCP leadership candidates who have served in the cabinet said they were unaware of pandemic cash bonuses given to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health and 106 other managers .
The spokeswoman for leadership hopeful Travis Toews, Christine Myatt, said the former finance minister did not authorize or was unaware of a cash bonus of nearly $228,000 paid to the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr Deena Hinshaw in 2021.
Myatt referred further questions to the government.
Leadership candidate and former Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney also said by email that she was not part of the decision and was « not aware of the specific circumstances involved ».
She, like many candidates, has pledged to hold a public inquiry into the Alberta government’s response to COVID-19. Sawhney said that would include the roles played by health officials.
Leadership hopeful Leela Aheer, who was ousted from the cabinet in July 2021, said the Alberta government owes the public an explanation for how the additional $2.4 million in pandemic pay paid to 107 managers had been calculated.
She fears that these officials are being unfairly targeted by a decision beyond their control.
« We need to make sure people understand what we’re doing and why, » Aheer said. « The reason the public is outraged right now is that they don’t get it. »
Government spokespersons did not respond to questions about who approved the extra pay.
The government said the bonus was determined using a formula used by the Civil Service Commission to compensate for excessive overtime during public emergencies.
CBC News has reached out to Rebecca Schulz for a response but, at the time of publication, had not received a response.
Leadership candidates who were not in cabinet scoffed at the idea that former ministers were unaware of the spending.
« Cabinet has made two years of bad decisions, » said MP and leadership candidate Brian Jean. « And that’s one more of the last insults. The Cabinet must explain how this happened. All the money comes from the same place. »
Independent MP Todd Loewen, who is also seeking to lead the party, also pledges to conduct an investigation into the handling of the pandemic if party members choose him as leader. He said in a video posted to Facebook on Tuesday that managers receiving a bonus don’t reassure him about the government’s choices.
Danielle Smith called the bonuses « deaf ».
“It is now clear that we were not all in the same boat, as many were making a lot of money from the crisis. Our frontline healthcare workers, including our doctors and nurses, pushed each other to the edge of the abyss. It’s a slap in the face for all of them, » she told CBC News via text message.
Party members must choose a new leader on October 6.
Unions say bonuses insult frontline workers
Meanwhile, union leaders representing Alberta health care workers reacted with frustration and anger to the announcement of the managers’ bonus.
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), which represents nearly 30,000 health care workers, has just signed a contract that gives approximately 20,000 Alberta health care workers a 1% wage increase in 2020 -2021. This is part of a total increase of 4.25% over four years.
Seeing Hinshaw receive 63% more pay in the same year is « insulting, » HSAA President Mike Parker said Tuesday.
Parker compared the expense with the government coming to the bargaining table to demand pay cuts of up to 11% for some workers.
« The only reason the system still worked was that our people kept coming to work and staying longer. Doing more, » he said.
The ranks of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees include 55,000 health care workers, such as laundry, housekeeping, food service and maintenance workers.
Union Vice President Bonnie Gostola said those workers are voting on a new contract that includes no new wages for 2020-21 and modest raises for the following two years.
She said it was a struggle to get « pennies » from the government in the negotiations, even after all their efforts during the pandemic.
« I was very insulted for our members and many others in the field of health, » Gostola said.