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Health Deputy Minister's compensation: Glaring omission in Alberta Sunshine List coverage explained

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Janet Davidson

And the top paid Alberta civil servant is … not even on the media's Top Ten List from the government's so-called Sunshine List of 2013 civil service salaries!

Just for the record, Alberta's top paid civil servant is Janet Davidson, deputy minister of health and an Officer of the Order of Canada, with a spectacular annual salary of about $644,000 when the dust has settled from her cash benefits but before the automobile kindly provided by the people of Alberta has pulled to the curb.

If you doubt me, the astonishing details of Davidson's compensation package are in her contract of personal employment, which is linked to the Sunshine List -- $22,222.22 plus myriad benefits on every bi-weekly paycheque.

Not that I've bothered to read every single story on the topic this evening, but the media seems to have missed this factoid entirely -- an oversight for which they are forgiven because they had to thumb through a massive data dump after 3:30 on a Friday afternoon.

Their problem was simply this: Davidson was hired by Health Minister Fred Horne at that enormous salary to replace the board of Alberta Health Services back in June, and jumped up to Deputy Minister at the same salary in mid-September. So while impressive, the figure your eye scans past on the massive list of senior bureaucrats is only for three and a half months.

Count on it, though, that AstroTurf groups like the so-called Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business are already combing through the details of the list looking for arguments to eliminate the modest pensions of clerks in the civil service who are paid more than 20 times less than Davidson.

No. 2 on the Top Ten list, which means he is No. 1 on the media's list, was Jay Ramotar, Service Alberta's deputy minister, who is paid $406,379 a year in base salary and cash benefits.

Last year, according to the Sunshine List, Ramotar, a former deputy minister of health, received a mere $272,516 in base pay and cash benefits.

And what is done at Service Alberta to justify Ramotar's 49-per-cent pay increase as the department's unelected head bureaucrat? Well, that's the department in charge of the civil service -- you know, the group of public employees whose modest salaries the government intends to use legislation to freeze for two years.

Most members of Top Ten List are physicians employed as medical examiners.

The other non-docs at the very top were Farouk Adatia, the Calgary lawyer who is chief of staff to Premier Alison Redford, at $357,707, up 52 per cent from $234,790 in 2013, and Executive Council Deputy Minister Peter Watson, with whom readers of this blog will be familiar, barely holding his own at $340,333 last year, shrinkage of about half a percentage point from 2012. Watson is actually No. 11 if you count Davidson.

Those executive salaries compare with $30,985 for a clerk at the Administrative Support 1 grade in the current AUPE collective agreement -- the one the government wants to freeze for two years. After seven years on the job, that worker would rise to the rate of $33,340 however.

If we are to carp to loudly about the immense salaries paid to the friends of the Redford Government at the top of this list, or dare to compare them to the extremely modest salaries set out in the civil service union's contract, we will inevitably be told that the market demands it, and furthermore that we have to pay senior public officials top corporate salaries or we won't attract "the best people" for the jobs.

Anyone who has been observing the performance of public service management over the past half century, however, knows that this is baloney.

In the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, senior civil service managers were paid only modest premiums above the wages of the public employees whose work they supervised.

No one can convincingly make the case that the work of that generation of managers was in any way inferior to the corporate-style executives of today -- au contraire!

+ + +

In regimental news, GG turfs personal Foot Guards' former honorary lieutenant colonel

Speaking of Top Ten Lists published late on a Friday afternoon, neoconservative hero, former media baron and, in the sanctimonious words of our national broadcaster, "convicted fraudster" Conrad Black yesterday joined a Top Ten List so exclusive it only had five members until he came along.

I speak, of course, of cashiered members of the Order of Canada: Alan Eagleson, 1999; David Ahenakew, 2005; Steve Fonyo and T. Sher Singh, 2009; Garth Drabinsky, 2012; and now Lord Black of Crossharbour, 2014.

The staff of Governor General David Johnston, who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, issued a terse news release late yesterday stating only that His Excellency "has accepted the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada to terminate Mr. Conrad Black's appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada. In addition, the Governor General has also accepted the recommendation from the Prime Minister to remove Mr. Black from The Queen's Privy Council for Canada. Both decisions are effective immediately."

Lord Black, who was given the civilian honour during the prime ministership of Brian Mulroney, was once upon a time feted in Conservative circles, and for a spell served as honourary lieutenant colonel of the vice-regal personage's own household regiment, the Governor General's Foot Guards. The GG's news release did not make it clear if his Lordship continues in that role.

While Lord Black will suffer the sting of this rebuke by his former friends for a time, like other neoliberal avatars fallen into disgrace, he is bound to be welcomed back into the bosom of conservatism soon enough. Indeed, we can expect the campaign to rehabilitate his Lordship's tarnished reputation to commence this morning in the pages of the National Post, the newspaper he founded.

Speaking as an aged hack toiling through a miasma of mounting decrepitude and an undistinguished Albertan with no discernable dog in this hunt other than time spent as Lord Black’s inadequately supervised employee, a significant portion of it on a picket line, I shall say nothing more.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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