Alberta's chief medical officer of health last year received the largest cash benefit payout of any provincial civil servant since the government began posting records in 2016.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw's salary last year was $363,634, but she also took home an additional $227,911 in "cash benefits" during the 2021 calendar year, according to the Alberta government's salary and severance disclosure database, which was updated last month.
Hinshaw is one of 107 employees in management positions who received extra pay for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government says. The total extra compensation cost Albertans more than $2.4 million dollars.
"The scale of the response to this unprecedented public health emergency required an extraordinary amount of additional work from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer, the Vaccine Task force, the Pandemic Response Team and others, which is reflected in the recent disclosure," Ministry of Health spokesperson Mark Feldbusch said in an email last week.
He said it is a long-standing policy on pay that has been in place during other emergencies, including the Fort McMurray wildfires in 2016 and southern Alberta floods of 2013.
Hinshaw's contract, which is posted online, does not specify the number of hours in her work week, nor does it include overtime provisions.
The Alberta government's extra pay to Hinshaw covers time she worked in excess of 45 hours per week. It was calculated using a formula devised by the public service commission, Feldbusch said.
He declined to say how many hours of overtime she worked.
CBC News compared Hinshaw's compensation for the most recent years available to that of her counterparts in four other provinces, as well as that of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, of B.C., received $342,292 for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Henry did not receive any bonus pay in that time for pandemic management, a B.C. government spokesperson said.
Dr. Robert Strang, of Nova Scotia, received $305,645 in 2020-21. He did not receive any additional pay for pandemic management during 2020-21 or 2021-22, a Nova Scotia government spokesperson said.
Salaries, compensation of select chief provincial public health officers
Dr. Saqib Shahab, of Saskatchewan, received $411,416 in 2020-21 — about $78,000 more than he received the previous year.
The Saskatchewan government cannot say if Shahab received a bonus, because the law prevents it from releasing more details about civil servants' compensation, a Saskatchewan government spokesperson said.
Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, who started in the post on June 26, 2021, received $235,314 in the 2021 calendar year.
The Ontario government could not disclose whether Moore received any bonus pay, a spokesperson said.
Hinshaw's extra pay opaquely justified: bioethicist
Dr. James Talbot, a medical microbiologist, served as Alberta's chief medical officer of health from 2012 to 2015.
Talbot did not discuss additional pay for potential excessive overtime with Alberta government human resources personnel while he was in the role, he said.
The pandemic is an unprecedented situation that required public health officials to work a lot of overtime to properly respond to the emergency, so it's fair that Hinshaw was compensated for additional work, Talbot said.
Hinshaw's total compensation last year — about $591,545 — isn't out-of-line with what many medical specialists earn, he said. But her workload was likely comparable to that of her counterparts during this time, making her pay an outlier.
The Alberta government's justification for the additional pay is opaque, said Arthur Schafer, a bioethicist and founding director of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics.
Hinshaw was one of the best-paid in the country before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the provincial government hasn't explained why her pay is a national aberration, he explained.
"They're blowing smoke in the public's face," Schafer said. "Top-level officials such as Dr. Hinshaw are not paid to work a 40-hour week. They're not salaried based on the number of hours they work. They're given very high remuneration."
Moving forward, Talbot expects medical officers of health — and doctors applying for those positions — to seek additional danger pay, or assurances of security from their respective provincial governments, given the public outrage and threats Hinshaw and her counterparts have faced.
"The amount of stress that that position was under across the country was also unprecedented," he said. "I was only peripherally involved, and I got death threats."
Since late May 2021, the Alberta government has paid Price Langevin and Associate, a private security firm, more than $262,000 to protect Hinshaw, according to the province's sole-source contracts diclosure database.