Public health doctors among city's highest paid — but not for pandemic work

·5 min read
No one can deny that Dr. Vera Etches, seen on a screen as she participated in one of dozens of news conferences in 2020, worked punishing hours in 2020. But that's not why she got a big pay bump last year.  (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)
No one can deny that Dr. Vera Etches, seen on a screen as she participated in one of dozens of news conferences in 2020, worked punishing hours in 2020. But that's not why she got a big pay bump last year. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)

City manager Steve Kanellakos still makes the most money of anyone working for the City of Ottawa, but for the first time ever, four public health doctors were among the top 10 earners in 2020, according to the provincial public sector disclosure list published Friday afternoon.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches and three associates appear to have received giant jumps in pay last year —Etches' 2020 salary was almost $370,000 compared to $259,000 the previous year — not because of the long hours worked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, the salary increases were due to three years' worth of retroactive salary adjustments.

Recent negotiations between the Ontario Medical Association and the province resulted in bigger paycheques for top doctors in public health in order to make them "competitive with other physician specialists and to improve the ability for organizations to attract and retain qualified employees," according to an emailed statement attributed to the city's HR manager Elizabeth Marland.

"We can confirm there were no overtime payments."

The doctors' salaries should be lower in next year's disclosure.

Confederation Line ambassadors were kept on during the COVID-19 pandemic to help with the mandatory mask rules. One man worked so much, he seems to have collected the second-highest salary at OC Transpo last year.
Confederation Line ambassadors were kept on during the COVID-19 pandemic to help with the mandatory mask rules. One man worked so much, he seems to have collected the second-highest salary at OC Transpo last year.(Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The provincial disclosure of public service salaries, known colloquially as the Sunshine List, was published Friday. It shows the names, salaries and taxable benefits of provincial and municipal employees who make six figures, and includes all payments, such as buyout, paid out holidays and overtime — but the list doesn't separate base salaries from other sorts of payments.

For example, it's not clear why Ken Hughes was paid an additional $100,000 in 2020, the year his contract as the city's auditor general ended.

Another surprise entry on the city's top 10 this year is Achuil Lual, listed in the city's staff directory as a "project officer" with OC Transpo. Lual made a whopping $274,852.81 last year, the highest salary paid out in 2020 at OC Transpo other than for general manager John Manconi.

At that pay level, Lual would be a well-known entity at City Hall, but no one CBC asked had heard of him.

Turns out, he's "a dedicated OC Transpo employee who supported the O-Train Ambassadors (OTA) program during an unprecedented era that spanned unforeseen Line 1 service disruptions and the COVID-19 pandemic," according to an email sent late Friday from the city's director of transit customer service and planning, Pat Scrimgeour.

Lual's surprising 2020 salary was the result of "retro-pay from previous years as well as significant overtime pay." Some of Lual's pay is covered by the COVID-19 Safe Restart Agreement funding from the provincial and federal governments, as he helped to implement the mandatory mask program on transit.

Although Lual's dedication was "commendable," Scrimgeour wrote, "the amount of overtime hours worked should have been noticed, prevented and fairly allocated amongst additional staff. OC Transpo fully acknowledges responsibility of this incident and have implemented numerous safeguards to ensure this will not happen again."

Running busier-than-usual flu clinics in 2020 added to the demands on Ottawa Public Health staff.
Running busier-than-usual flu clinics in 2020 added to the demands on Ottawa Public Health staff. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

More social service staff, fewer bus drivers on the list

But the list does offer a glimpse as to where the pressures have been on city operations the previous year.

As to be expected, more people in social and protective services than usual were on the list due to working more during the pandemic. There was a 31.6 per cent increase overall at Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and in emergency and protective services. The general manager of that department, Anthony Di Monte, made $260,325.18.

At OPH, 106 people made the Sunshine List in 2020, compared to only 31 in 2019.

In 2019 the number of OC Transpo bus drivers more than doubled to 415 because they worked so much overtime to compensate for the late and faltering Confederation Line.

In 2020, the number of bus operators on the Sunshine List dropped to 176 because transit ridership plummeted during the pandemic. And yet, it's still a jump over previous years. In 2018, 106 drivers made the list, and just 85 drivers in 2017.

Council, other than Chiarelli, on list

In 2020, 4,858 city employees made the list, an increase of 214 people. A little more than half are first responders, including police officers (1,462), firefighters (846) and paramedics (320). But according to a memo from Marland to members of council, that number is somewhat misleading because last year had 27 pay periods, instead of the more usual 26.

"If this was a typical 26 pay period year, there would have been 158 fewer employees as compared to 2019, which would have been a decreased of 3.5 per cent," wrote Marland.

Mayor Jim Watson was paid a salary of $196,205 last year, while councillors made just shy of $110,000 in 2020.

Coun. Rick Chiarelli was not on the Sunshine List last year, as he was docked 15 months of salary starting last August as part of the sanctions arising from the integrity commissioner's investigations into the College ward councillor's behaviour.

Ottawa's city manager Steve Kanellakos, left, made more than any municipal employee in 2020. OC Transpo boss John Manconi, who made more than $295,000, came in lower down the list this year.
Ottawa's city manager Steve Kanellakos, left, made more than any municipal employee in 2020. OC Transpo boss John Manconi, who made more than $295,000, came in lower down the list this year. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

City of Ottawa's top 10 earners by salary

  • City Manager Steve Kanellakos: $377,218.61

  • Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches: $369,833.98

  • Police Chief Peter Sloly: $359,133.71

  • Auditor General Ken Hughes: $351,554.11

  • Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Monir Taha: $310,745.01

  • Associate Medical Officer of Heath Dr. Robin Taylor: $310,733.01

  • GM of transit and transportation John Manconi: $295,624.89

  • Police services superintendent Joan McKenna: $290,314.67

  • Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Sarah Funnell: $275,666.81

  • Transit project officer Achuil Lual: $274,852.81