October 06, 2009
Rob Ferguson and Tanya Talaga
(Oct 6, 2009)
Hefty salaries for some of Ontario's highest paid civil servants are being channelled through hospitals to skirt government pay guidelines, the Toronto Star has learned.
Deputy health minister Ron Sapsford, for example, earned nearly $500,000 last year in salary and taxable benefits through Hamilton Health Sciences Centre.
As Premier Dalton McGuinty's administration clamps down on untendered contracts and consultants' meal expenses in the wake of the eHealth Ontario spending scandal, salaries for top bureaucrats are being buried in hospital budgets.
The premier's hand-picked climate-change adviser, Hugh MacLeod, was paid $320,695 last year by University Health Network, according to the government's public sector salary disclosure documents.
Sapsford earns a salary of $433,611 plus $64,700 in taxable benefits through the Hamilton Health Sciences Centre.
Gail Paech, an associate deputy minister of economic development and trade and a former senior health bureaucrat, was paid $291,997.20 by the University Health Network last year.
The salaries are well above the maximum $220,150 recommended for deputy ministers and the range of $146,700 to $188,950 for associate and assistant deputies.
By comparison, Premier Dalton McGuinty earns $207,427 and Health Minister David Caplan made $164,623 last year.
The practice is used as a means to attract top talent to the bureaucracy, said Kevin Finnerty, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry.
"We need to pay them comparable salaries," he said. "This is a long-standing practice back to 1994."
Sapsford, who was paid nearly $500,000 in salary and benefits by HHS last year, is a former chief operating officer of the group of six Hamilton hospitals and a cancer treatment centre. But that posting was some time ago, said HHS spokesperson Jeff Vallentin.
"It was five years ago, maybe," Vallentin said, declining to answer any questions about the deal and referring queries to health ministry officials in Toronto, where Sapsford, who declined to comment, is the boss.
Finnerty insisted it is not a conflict of interest for Sapsford to be in charge of a health ministry that makes decisions affecting the hospital that pays his wage.
"Every civil servant whether on secondment or not, has an oath of allegiance to the Crown and is bound by that," he said.
Another former government official said pay arrangements like Sapsford's and others are put through hospitals because they have "enhanced pensions" for senior executives.
Sapsford's pay packet is higher than that of his boss, cabinet secretary Shelly Jamieson, who earned $327,953 in salary and $10,079 in taxable benefits.
She is the province's most powerful public servant, in charge of 65,000 employees.
Climate-change adviser MacLeod is listed in salary documents as a deputy director of special projects at UHN. Asked Monday if he ever worked at the hospital network, which includes Toronto General, MacLeod replied, "No."
He was previously an associate deputy minister in the health ministry and has reported directly to the premier as associate deputy minister responsible for the climate-change secretariat since March 2008.
MacLeod confirmed in a telephone interview that his paycheque comes from the hospital network.
"It was part of the contract I entered into when I came here from B.C ... in 2003," he said, adding he is unaware of the reason for the arrangement.
"I don't know."
At UHN, vice-president of public affairs and communications Gillian Howard confirmed MacLeod and Paech are both being paid through the hospital.
"We're asked to put them on our payroll so we do," she said.
"The answer to why you're going to have to talk to the (health) ministry."
UHN and other hospitals are fully compensated by the health ministry for the salaries paid through them to non-staffers like MacLeod, ministry spokesman Finnerty said.
Finnerty said the reason for shifting the money around is simple.
"At Ontario public service salary scales we could not attract these people to work in the Ontario government," he said.
"We would not have the benefit of the expertise of these people if we did not do this."
The practice is transparent, Finnerty said, because all Ontario civil service and Crown agency employees who make more than $100,000 have their salaries disclosed online each year.