Alberta government severance payments in 2014 top $3.5 million, list shows

EDMONTON – The Alberta government paid $1.5 million in severance to 10 civil servants in the second half of 2014 alone, the latest release from the province’s sunshine list shows.

Most of the departing employees, all classified as senior managers or officials, took home a severance nearly equal to their annual salary. In some cases, severance amounts topped yearly salaries.

Among the payments were two $175,000 settlements — the highest amount in the past six months — paid to two former Alberta Education managers. The list doesn’t disclose their salaries and neither appears on the list for previous years. A spokesperson for Alberta Education would not say how long each had been employed with the ministry.

Lorraine McKay, the former assistant deputy minister of health, received the second-highest amount at $167,489.

Dana Woodworth and Robert Penny, both departing deputy ministers, each took home the next highest amount of $162,160.

The batch of 10 contracts were released in late December through the province’s sunshine list, which includes severance and salary information for all government employees who earn more than $102,000 annually.

The list shows the province already paid $2.1 million to departing staff in the first half of 2014, bringing to $3.6 million the total severance paid by the Alberta government last year.

Former premier Alison Redford’s government introduced the sunshine list to make more pay and severances public after she came under fire for the lucrative severances paid to political staff in her office. Introduced in January 2014, the list is updated each June and December and dates to 2012.

Premier Jim Prentice has repeatedly pledged to eliminate entitlements and restore public trust in government after Redford’s scandal-plagued time in the premier’s office.

Last year, Prentice announced he had created an advisory committee to overhaul the civil service and provide advice on issues such as compensation and severance policies, his spokeswoman Emily Woods said Tuesday in an email.

“Premier Prentice continues his commitment to overall increased accountability and transparency and has already implemented a fair severance policy for political staff,� she said.

As part of his flagship Accountability Act passed last year, Prentice introduced a new Treasury Board directive capping severance for political staff at six months pay. The policy doesn’t apply to senior officials and other civil servants. Critics have pointed out the government can alter directives behind closed doors at any time. Wildrose finance critic Drew Barnes said Prentice has consistently under-delivered on his promises to increase accountability in government as the province grapples with oil prices at five-year lows and a growing hole in the budget.

“What we asked for and what we wanted, was for the severance rules to be extended to all civil servants and not just political staffers,� Barnes said Tuesday. “The best way to keep it fair between private industries and public is to have the public rules the same or similar to what people would get in the private sector.�

NDP Leader Rachel Notley noted that many of the departing managers’ contracts would have been written years ago. To change future practices, the current Tory government must put in place a new severance policy for senior civil servants, she said, suggesting a rate of one month of pay per year of service.

“There’s a lot of movement back and forth between the so-called political positions and the public service positions. And that we still have no limit on the size of severances for the public service is concerning to me,� Notley said.

Liberal MLA Kent Hehr said the Tory-dominated legislature didn’t adequately address the question of lucrative severance packages when it had the opportunity last fall.

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