The Alberta government is tightening rules around employee bonuses in light of the six-figure payout to the Chief Medical Officer of Health during COVID-19.
Finance Minister Jason Nixon said the civil service had been tasked with reviewing and making changes to the rules to ensure future emergency bonus payments are subject to cabinet approval.
“The Civil Service should not have the ability to unilaterally approve large overtime payments of this size,” Nixon said in a statement Thursday.
“The Civil Service Commission has been instructed to carry out a comprehensive review of the policy to ensure that future overtime payments for emergencies pass through Cabinet.
“Until the review is complete and a new policy is confirmed, all future requests will be submitted to Treasury Board [headed up by Nixon] revise.”
The CBC, gleaning information from the government’s sunny payroll, reported on Monday that Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, received a bonus of nearly $228,000 for COVID-19 work in 2021 – the highest such cash benefit payout to a civil servant province since the list was made public six years ago.
That figure, in addition to his regular salary, brings Hinshaw’s salary to over $591,000.
The opposition NDP and public sector unions have called the payment a deep insult to frontline health care workers who have had to work during the COVID-19 pandemic as the government tries to cut their wages or to cut their jobs completely.
The payment also drew ire from some members of the ruling United Conservative Party who have long criticized Hinshaw for his role in what they saw as intrusive and unnecessary health restrictions and vaccination rules during the pandemic.
Then-Finance Minister Travis Toews is now one of seven candidates vying to replace Prime Minister Jason Kenney in a party vote scheduled for October 6.
Toews said he was unaware of the payment and said he would also make changes to ensure the firm had the final say on those bonuses.
The NDP says Toews must have known about the payment and argues he was either lying or didn’t have a good idea of the department he was supposed to head.
“The Minister of Finance needs to be aware of the finances of the province,” NDP spokeswoman Sarah Hoffman told reporters in Edmonton on Thursday.
“I’m not surprised that Jason Nixon is trying to find lines to go back and try to distance himself from the guilt [of] Travis Toews and others sitting around this cabinet table.”
The payout was one of several COVID-19 bonuses paid to 107 branch employees totaling $2.4 million.
In a statement, Alberta Health said Hinshaw was paid according to a long-standing policy and emergency-related financial calculation based on hours worked.
“Given the scale of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an extraordinary amount of additional work has been required by Dr. Hinshaw,” the statement said.