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Alberta tightening bonus-payment rules after hefty COVID-19 payout to health chief


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By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

The Alberta government is tightening the rules around employee bonuses in light of the six-figure payout to the chief medical officer of health during COVID-19.

Finance Minister Jason Nixon said the civil service has been directed to review and make changes to the rules to ensure future bonus payments during emergencies go through cabinet for approval.

“The public service should not have the ability to unilaterally approve significant overtime payments of this size,” Nixon said in a statement Thursday.

“The Public Service Commission has been instructed to undergo a full review of the policy to ensure that future overtime payments for emergencies go through cabinet.

“Until the review has been completed and a new policy has been confirmed, all future requests will be brought forward for Treasury Board (headed up by Nixon) to review.”

The CBC, gleaning information from the government’s sunshine salary list, reported Monday that Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, received a bonus of almost $228,000 for COVID-19 work in 2021 — the highest such cash benefit payout to any provincial civil servant since the list went public six years ago.

That figure, on top of her regular salary, put Hinshaw’s pay at more than $591,000.

The Opposition NDP and public sector unions have called the payout a profound insult to front-line health workers who had to work under COVID-19 while the government attempted to reduce their pay or tried to cut their jobs altogether.

The payout has also aroused the ire of some in the governing United Conservative Party who have long criticized Hinshaw for her role in what they viewed as intrusive and unnecessary health restrictions and vaccine rules during the pandemic.

The finance minister at the time, Travis Toews, is now one of seven candidates running to replace Premier Jason Kenney in a party vote set for Oct. 6.

Toews has said he did not know of the payout and said he would also make changes to ensure cabinet had the final say on such bonuses.

The NDP says Toews had to have known about the payout and contends that he is either lying or didn’t have a firm grasp on the department he was supposed to be running.

“The finance minister needs to know about the finances of the province,” NDP critic Sarah Hoffman told reporters in Edmonton on Thursday.

“I’m not surprised Jason Nixon is trying to come up with lines to backtrack and try to distance himself from the culpability (of) Travis Toews and others sitting around that cabinet table.”

The payout was one of the COVID-19 bonuses paid to 107 employees in management totalling $2.4 million.

Alberta Health, in a statement, said Hinshaw was paid as per a long-standing policy and financial calculation tied to emergencies based on hours worked.

“Given the scale of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an extraordinary amount of additional work was required by Dr. Hinshaw,” said the statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2022.

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Alberta legislation would set up independent agency to investigate police complaints

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The Alberta government has introduced legislation aimed at making police forces more accountable and responsive to the communities they serve.

The Police Amendment Act introduced Thursday would establish an independent agency called the Police Review Commission to receive complaints, carry out investigations and conduct disciplinary hearings to do away with the idea of police investigating police.

Mike Ellis, the minister of public safety and emergency services, said the province has been consulting with Albertans since 2018 to come up with the first major overhaul of the Police Act in 34 years.

“One thing that came up consistently was the need to change how complaints against the police are investigated to end the system of police investigating police,” Ellis said.

“The legislation answers those long-lasting calls to reform the public complaints process by establishing an independent agency to handle complaints against police.”

The Alberta Serious Response Team will continue to handle all cases involving death or serious injuries, as well as serious and sensitive allegations involving all police services. Its mandate would be expanded to include peace officers employed by provincial organizations as well as community peace officers at the municipal level.

The legislation would also require all jurisdictions with a population above 15,000 currently policed by the RCMP to establish civilian bodies to oversee policing priorities.

The United Conservative Party government is deciding next steps following the release of a third-party analysis last year of a proposal to create a provincial police force instead of using the RCMP in rural areas and some smaller communities.

“No decisions have been made regarding the provincial police service,” Ellis said. “This is about ensuring that the rural municipalities have a say at the table under our current model which is the RCMP, who is the current provincial police service provider.”

Ellis said it could be another 18 months before the Police Review Commission is up and running. He said negotiations are underway with the RCMP to see how they would fit in under civilian oversight.

“Right now K-Division has expressed they’re supportive of this, however, we’re still having discussions with Public Safety Canada because it still falls technically under the RCMP in Ottawa,” he said.

“We’re going to continue to negotiate with the RCMP because we believe the independent body is the right approach and we can continue going down that path.”

The proposed changes would also require police to develop diversity and inclusion plans to reflect the diverse and distinct communities they serve and to better understand local community needs.

The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police supports the changes.

“Changes to update our Police Act are long overdue,” said Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld, president of the association in a statement.

“We have advocated for several years that the act needs reform to bring it more in line with the realities of the modern police workplace,”

Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee said the changes “will provide an additional layer of public transparency” that will benefit both the public and police.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary

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TC Energy shuts down Keystone pipeline system after leak in Nebraska

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CALGARY — TC Energy Corp. says it has shut down its Keystone pipeline after a leak in Nebraska.

The company says it has mobilized people and equipment in response to a confirmed release of oil into a creek, about 32 kilometres south of Steele City, Neb.

TC Energy says an emergency shutdown and response was initiated Wednesday night after a pressure drop in the system was detected.

It says the affected segment of the pipeline has been isolated and booms have been deployed to prevent the leaked oil from moving downstream.

The Keystone pipeline system stretches 4,324 kilometres and helps move Canadian and U.S. crude oil to markets around North America.

TC Energy says the system remains shutdown as its crews respond and work to contain and recover the oil.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

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