Deputy ministers got lucrative bonuses ahead of last federal election

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Canada’s deputy ministers got some of the highest average bonuses in more than a decade in the months leading up to the last federal election, according to government data published online.

The average bonus handed out to deputy ministers for 2014-15 by then prime minister Stephen Harper’s government was $21,211 — the highest average amount since 2003-04.

The bonuses come on top of an average cheque for so-called “at risk” pay of $47,942.

An analysis of Treasury Board and Privy Council Office data shows that, overall, bonuses for deputy ministers have risen 109 per cent since 2003-04, while “at risk” pay is up 164 per cent.

Traditionally, the government has argued it needs to offer performance pay to attract the best and the brightest into public service.

Those who perform to the level expected get “at risk” pay — a term that reflects the fact that they risk not receiving it if their performance is unsatisfactory. Bonuses then go to those who perform above and beyond expectations.

Base salaries for deputy ministers in 2015 ranged from $192,600 to $326,500.

When it comes to doling out performance pay, deputy ministers and executives are evaluated on how successful they have been in running their own departments and in implementing the objective set by the government.

In 2014-15, the objective was successfully implementing the Harper government’s cost-cutting plan.

The corporate priority for 2015-16 centred on recruiting people with skills needed in the future and improving mental health in the workplace. This year’s priority, for 2016-17, is mental health.

Performance pay figures for 2015-16, which will begin to reflect the choices of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, are not yet available.

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Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said high bonuses for senior management while they were ‘decimating’ the public service was ‘disappointing.’ (CBC)

Some have criticized the system in the past, suggesting it makes top public servants more reluctant to carry out their jobs of speaking the truth to those in power if it risks costing them thousands in performance pay.

Others, like Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, point out that deputy ministers and executives got lucrative cheques at the same time as the government was tightening its belt.

“It is disappointing to see that the Harper Conservatives were giving such high bonuses to senior management at a time when they were decimating the public service and forcing increases to the Public Service Health Care Plan for seniors,” Benson said, calling on the Trudeau government to restore the public service.

‘At-risk’ pay

The CBC News analysis reveals that only three of 95 deputy ministers in the federal government received no performance management pay for 2014-15. Nine of the 95 — or 8.1 per cent — received bonuses in addition to “at risk” pay.

Overall, performance pay for deputy ministers cost taxpayers $4.6 million for 2014-15.

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Deputy ministers got lucrative bonuses ahead of last federal election

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