The Alberta NDP is calling on the province’s auditor general to investigate bonuses paid out to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and other managers for work related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hinshaw received a record-setting bonus payment of almost $228,000 last year in addition to her regular salary of more than $591,000. This is the highest cash benefit payout to any provincial civil servant since the list was made public six years ago.
In a letter to Auditor General Doug Wylie on Monday, finance critic Shannon Phillips requested a performance audit of the bonus payment structures and processes related to the COVID-19 pandemic response.
Phillips also requested a performance audit of the actions of former Minister of Finance Travis Toews. Toews denied that he authorized the payments in a tweet last Wednesday.
But Phillips said Toews’ claims “defy belief” because he had ministerial authority over the Alberta Public Service Commission’s extra or special services compensation directive which was approved in March this year.
The directive outlines the criteria and approach to lump sum payments for non-unionized public employees, including management.
According to the Alberta NDP, the directive did not exist on the Government of Alberta website in February but was approved and reviewed in March.
“For many Albertans, including members of our caucus who have served as ministers and on Treasury Board, MLA Toews’ claims defy belief,” Phillips wrote in the letter on Monday.
“Not only did he have ministerial authority over the policy, but such significant payments, on such a widespread scale, would — as a standard operating procedure — be brought to the attention of the Minister or be considered by the Treasury Board Committee as whole for their appropriateness.”
The letter comes after the payout has reopened public divisions and debate over Hinshaw and the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said last Wednesday that the United Conservative Party must bear the responsibility and fallout for the payment to Hinshaw.
Unions, including the Alberta Union of Public Employees, also slammed the payout given the government reduced pay and jobs in front-line health care.
“If it is true, then it is demonstrative of someone who has no business being finance minister in any government, and certainly not leading in government,” Notley said.
Steve Buick, a spokesperson for Alberta’s Ministry of Health, previously said the payouts were “determined using a formula for managers based on additional hours worked.”
“Given the scale of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an extraordinary amount of additional work was required from Alberta’s top public health doctor,” Buick said in a statement last Monday.
–With files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press.