United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership contender Todd Loewen wants the provincial auditor general to investigate bonuses paid to civil servants during the Covid-19 pandemic – and the Alberta NDP agrees with him.
Albertan taxpayers have been grappling with the news that 107 management employees collected $2.4 million in bonuses in 2021 without government oversight. This includes a $227,911 Covid bonus for Alberta’s provincial chief medical officer of health (CMOH) Dr. Deena Hinshaw, an addition to her $363,634 salary.
Loewen wrote to the Auditor General on Thursday requesting an investigation and a performance audit completed on the Government of Alberta’s budget for fiscal year 2021-22, focusing on the 107 cash bonuses awarded to government officials and ministry staff.
“I believe Albertans are demanding clarity around the procedures and directives for the awarding of discretionary bonuses to these employees,” the Independent MLA wrote in in a letter to Auditor General Doug Wylie.
The civil service said Hinshaw’s bonus was approved using an existing formula to compensate civil servants for overtime hours.
Loewen said the bonuses are concerning because they were apparently done without the oversight of elected cabinet ministers “which I find deeply concerning.”
“Albertans expect their elected officials to be aware of what is happening in their departments,” he wrote. “We now have statements from multiple cabinet ministers saying that they had no knowledge of these bonuses being awarded. Albertans deserve answers regarding what else happened with Alberta’s finances that cabinet was not aware of and whether the directors in place were truly being followed.”
A letter from the NDP on Monday mirrors Loewen’s request, with finance critic Shannon Phillips requesting a performance audit of the bonus payment structures and processes related to the Covid-19 pandemic response. She also requested a performance audit of the actions of former finance minister Travis Toews, who’s now running to replace Premier Jason Kenney.
As previously reported by True North, Toews has said he did not approve nor did he have prior knowledge of Hinshaw’s bonus.
But Toews had ministerial authority over the Alberta Public Service Commission’s extra or special services compensation directive which was approved in March this year, Phillips wrote in her letter.
“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.
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said last week that the UCP is responsible for Hinshaw’s bonus and the subsequent fallout.
In response to Philip’s request, Loewen wrote on Facebook, “The awkward moment when even the NDP follows my lead… It won’t earn Rachel Notley a spot in my cabinet, but thanks for coming on board anyway!”
Alberta Finance Minister Jason Nixon has said the public service should not have the ability to “unilaterally approve significant overtime payments of this size.”
“The Public Service Commission has been instructed to undergo a full review of the policy to ensure that future overtime payments for emergencies go through Cabinet for approval,” Nixon said in a statement to True North. “Until the review has been completed and a new policy has been confirmed, all future requests will be brought forward for (the) Treasury Board to review.
UCP leadership frontrunner Danielle Smith said Albertans are “rightly stunned and outraged” by news of Hinshaw’s Covid bonus.
“As Premier, not only will we not lockdown again or impose vaccine mandates, we will have a full review into the handling of the pandemic, including the role our CMOH of health played in it,” she wrote on Twitter.
Contender Brian Jean said the bonus “is unsettling, to say the least.”
“While Albertans were losing businesses, while our health system was collapsing under mismanagement, the people on the Sky Palace balcony signed off on an all-time record bonus,” he wrote on Twitter.