Full-time pay, part-time work

A newspaper headline published last week said it best: “Full-time pay for part-time work.”

A newspaper headline published last week said it best: “Full-time pay for part-time work.”

That’s the way Alberta journalists are describing the money being paid to the 15 members of this province’s new health superboard, the organization that has replaced regional health authorities.

In case you didn’t know, at a meeting in Red Deer, the Alberta Health Services Board executives recently endorsed a 25 per cent pay hike: raising their annual honoraria from $40,000 to $50,000.

On top of that, they’ll be paid $750 for every meeting they attend (approximately four per month). That’s roughly $36,000 per year.

And $50,000 + $36,000 = $86,000 or so per board member, per year.

Chairman Ken Hughes will be paid $75,000 annually, as well as $1,000 for each board meeting he attends. Four meetings per month, for 12 months, would work out to $48,000.

And $75,000 + $48,000 = $123,000 or so for the chairman, each year.

Not surprisingly, many Albertans are ticked off about the pay increase and the rather generous remuneration for part-time work.

Also, not surprising, some public officials are ducking and weaving, and basically doing everything they can to characterize the pay hike as something other than a raise, and even suggesting it was a decision made by someone else.

Red Deer’s Gord Bontje, a member of the superboard, insists that he and his colleagues did not give themselves a raise.

“When I got a letter from the minister formally inviting me to join the board, it (mentioned the rate of pay that) was reflected in the resolution yesterday,” he said last week. “We did not raise that or change that.”

Hmmm, somebody increased the honoraria from $40,000 to $50,000, but it seems it’s a big mystery who did that. Maybe it happened by accident, and maybe it doesn’t snow in Alberta in March.

In any case, provincial opposition parties are furious about the pay raise.

“These board members are taking home so-called honorariums that are worth more than most people make in a year at full-time jobs,” says David Swann, the leader of the Liberals. “And we’re asking seniors to pay more out of pocket for prescription drugs?”

“This government is doling out bonuses to every fat cat with their hand out, meanwhile 30,000 Albertans who have lost their jobs have been told to tighten their belts,” adds Brian Mason, the leader of the NDP. “Board members shouldn’t get bonuses for attending board meetings — that’s their job.”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation notes it’s too early to be paying increases to people who have not yet proven themselves, and says raises should be given in relation to improvements to the health-care system.

Bontje is quite correct in saying the people on the board are not in it for the money.

No doubt, they are people with considerable skills and experience who are sincerely interested in improving Alberta’s troubled health system.

A number of the board members are wealthy people who are not going to have their lives changed by $85,000 or so per annum.

They likely are motivated by the opportunity to serve the public good, rather than the moola — not that a pay increase of $10,000 per year wouldn’t make a person smile, even a wealthy person.

Besides, aren’t politicians always telling us that taxpayers have to shell out big bucks if we want the best people to represent us?

Alberta’s Ed Stelmach is the highest paid premier in Canada at $213,450 per year.

Do you think he’s the person most capable of running this province? Is he the best premier in the nation?

If you had to hire a used car salesman tomorrow, would you hire good old Steady Eddie?

Maybe not, but in fairness, he was democratically elected. And he and Alberta’s other MLAs broke no laws when, not long ago, they gave themselves pay hikes ranging from 30 to 34 per cent.

Anyway, didn’t you get a pay increase of 34 per cent last year?

No? Well, that’s what the big boys are getting — just ask the CEOs of companies failing on Wall Street.

The pay hikes for the superboard, and Alberta MLAs before that, are especially disturbing given public outrage over bonuses paid to executives at firms being bailed out by the taxpayer — both in Canada and the United States.

That said, it remains to be seen if the superboard will prove a success or a failure.

A recent Calgary Herald story, however, is not encouraging.

It notes that 10 months after Alberta Health Services was created, the organization’s own figures suggest the restructuring has produced mixed results with plenty of problem areas.

But perhaps we shouldn’t expect much from the superboard.

Health Minister Ron Liepert, recently said, “I never anticipated in the first year or even the couple of years that we would actually see improvements on the front line.”

No improvements on the front line within the first couple of years?

Well, with the expectations that low, Liepert must be pleased indeed.

And with a tidy salary increase — initiated by God knows who — superboard members must be happy, even if they’re not in it for the money.

Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.

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