If it works for doctors …

Russell Wangersky
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Perhaps we should be thanking Health Minister Jerome Kennedy for his forward-looking thinking, for his stalwart defence of this concept of the differential paycheque.

It’s something that was introduced in 2008, when the provincial government cut a special deal with the province’s pathologists and some other medical specialties. The problem of the day was that pathologists were revolting — well, actually, no, they weren’t revolting. They were departing, leaving, voting with their feet. Fed up with overwork, morale problems and other systemic issues, they were looking at greener pastures.

So, the provincial government gravy-ed them up, offering the medical specialists money that other specialists didn’t get.

Getting a reaction

Now, the other specialists are revolting in turn, saying they feel the province has no respect for them and their hard work. And the provincial government seems keen to push that point home by publically trashing and belittling doctors who have waited two years for their pay to catch up, and are now being told to keep waiting, presumably because their work just doesn’t matter as much as the pathologists’ does. There aren’t many other ways to describe it.

But Kennedy’s defence of the split salary may well have some merit. After all, most employees in this province (those who aren’t employed by a national organization like Canada Post or the CBC) are well familiar with the fact that workers who stay here are paid less than they would be almost anywhere else in the country. Two — or more — tiers of pay is a way of life here.

So, perhaps it should be embraced, right on up the line and into Confederation Building.

Think about this: pathologists got a healthy pay increase because other provinces wanted to spirit them away.

Do any other provinces want our cabinet ministers?

Seriously, in any other province, would many of them even be in a cabinet?

So why on Earth are we paying so much to keep our cabinet members in the style to which they have become accustomed?

And more to the point, why on Earth are we paying all of them the same amount?

Every member of the Williams cabinet gets the same $54,072 top-up on their salary for being a member of the cabinet. Not only that, but each gets an office budget for immediate support staff and expenses that ranges anywhere from $276,000 a year to $530,000 a year. Fact is, though, cabinet responsibilities clearly vary.

Big and small

The province’s minister of transportation and works oversees 1,397 employees and a budget of

$61.9 million: the minister gets the $54,072 top-up and $293,600 in office expenses.

Then, there’s the ministers of Labrador affairs and aboriginal affairs: John Hickey and Patty Pottle each get the $54,072 top-up, and between them, have an annual budget of $660,400 for office expenses and extras. Yet the twin departments have just 31 staff (15 of those positions are executive and support staff for the ministers) and an annual budget to oversee of just $4.9 million.

That’s just bad economics: with a fraction of the work responsibilities, they should get a fraction of the pay. That is, of course, is a version of the argument that Kennedy was making with regard to Dr. Julia Trahey, when he trotted out her salary to the public “for clarity’s sake.”

If you based pay and perks on the financial heft of the department, if the minister of transportation gets $54,072 and $263,600 for expenses, Pottle and Hickey, with a department roughly four per cent of the size of the Transportation Department, should each get additional pay of $2,162.88 per year, and office expenses of about $10,500.

And think of the savings: implementing differential pay over just those three departments would save $743,000 each and every year — money that could go into something like, I don’t know, doctors’ salaries.

The math gets even wilder if you factor in the really big departments. If you were to use the Department of Education’s budget as the baseline, it would be a $1.27-billion budget. Health? $2.69 billion. Compare that to a responsibility of two (count ’em — two) cabinet ministers for a measly $4.9 million, and the perks would suddenly be microscopic.

More savings

Mirror the cost reductions into other small or vestigial provincial departments — like Business and Intergovernmental Affairs — and you could make even more spectacular savings. And if the cabinet ministers rankle at the cuts, well, we could just use the Kennedy formula, and replace them.

All cabinet jobs aren’t created equal, so maybe their pay and expenses shouldn’t be, either.

Let’s just see how that would fly at the cabinet table — perhaps Kennedy would be willing to explain the fairness of a pay differential to the people he sits with, instead of the people he belittles.

Certainly, a body as smart as a provincial cabinet would easily understand and joyfully embrace what they expect the province’s medical specialists to live with.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Fed, Canada Post, CBC Transportation Department Department of Education Intergovernmental Affairs

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Recent comments

  • Average and Concerned
    November 15, 2010 - 10:21

    Sounds like the NLMA could sure use Russell on their negotiating team and ,one would wonder why the CEO of Eastern health would be throwing gas on this conflageration during these tense days of the negotiations. If Specialists are just out there in the world waiting for our headhunters to approach them to come to work in Newfoundland and Labrador , why have we noy hired some of them before now considering the wait times to see a Specialist in this province. The wait times are contributed to the Patient loads , therefor it is a logical assumption that the Specialists are over worked, tired, underpaid and stressed from the unreal expectations placed upon then. They are human beings with husbands, wives, children, parents, joys and sorrows of daily living, the same as all other players in this farce on going with one exception "WE WILL ALL NEED THEM BEFORE WE DIE" . We do not need the rest of the players nearly as much. They can be replaced so easily at the next election day. To conclude, THE PEOPLE OF THIS PROVINCE DO NOT NEED A FLIGHT OUT OF THIS PROVINCE AWAY FROM ALL THEY HOLD DEAR AND LOVE AT THEIR MOST VUNERABLE TIME, WHEN THEY ARE AT THEIR SICKEST.

  • williebean
    November 14, 2010 - 09:58

    god, for years now your editorials make politicians to be sleeze. I'm not sure how one minute someone is a regular citizen and once they are elected are suddenly the scum of the earth.

    • Willi Makit
      November 14, 2010 - 14:19

      Willibean, rather than criticize the messenger, why not criticize the message? The editors are just stating the facts. You are the one doing the interpretation (and in this case, you're bang on). Would you rather that the media ignored the facts and simply restated what the politician's would like you to believe? Without mentioning any names (no names please), there is at least one media outlet in the province that caters to those tastes. Alternatively, you can put your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and pretend that all is well. You won't be the only one, some people have been doing just that for years.

  • mom
    November 14, 2010 - 09:07

    Well said. There are a couple of questions I would like to see answered. What would Dr. Trahey's salary be if she worked in a similar position in Ontario or Alberta? I think that would put things in perspective for a lot of people. Also, why is it that it was a female doctor's salary that was singled out for release to the public? There were a lot of male doctors who tended their resignation as well.

    • Joy Whelan
      November 14, 2010 - 18:12

      Fabulous article! Thanks for researching this topic and bringing this information to everyones attention. I hope it gets widespread coverage!

  • james
    November 14, 2010 - 08:54

    did you people know that danny and his minnows have better health care coverage than anyone else on the island that goes for all political hacks in canada so you see they have coverage that we can only dream of please don,t be afraid to check this out

  • Harvey Jackman
    November 14, 2010 - 08:53

    The Telegram asks people ,who make comments, to be polite...your comments about "minsters"...are they really polite? Are you being polite to the voters who elected them? About salaries...I'm surprised that the Telegram hasn't used the Freedom of Information Act to let us know the works about it!!! Or are you intimidated? or perhaps have friends in medical circles? Are workers at the Telegram there because no one else wants them?

  • Pierre Neary
    November 14, 2010 - 07:17

    Great column. Certainly puts things in perspective. Anyone know where the Premier has been hiding lately?? Not like the Premier to be so quiet. Getting ready to throw Minister Kennedy under the bus maybe??

  • Brad Cabana
    November 13, 2010 - 13:33

    This columnist needs to put some balance in his writing. It could be equally argued that if the implication is that some ministries require more work then those ministers should be paid more. Is that not in some ways what the government is saying about physicians? ie: some doctors should be paid less than others.

    November 13, 2010 - 13:05

    Why does Danny not think its necessary to have the House of Assembly open to publically deal with thie CRISIS IN HEALTH CARE? Oh yes I forgot. Danny isnt open honest and transparent and he is held accountable to no on at all. Speaking of accountability has anyone ever checked into the farce called the Williams Family Trust wher the premiers salary is rumored to be going? Well I have and what I was able to find out would make your head spin. Its a huge tax break for Danny Millions but other than that its nothing more than a farce. Again he is accountable to no one we just have to take his word and believe everything he tells us without question..OPEN THE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY MR PREMIER.......What are you trying to hide from us now?...STOP the lies. Stop the cover ups. Stop the corruption. In Dannys own words politics is a racket. So STOP THE RACKET...STOP DANY WILLIAMS.

  • Dave
    November 13, 2010 - 09:38

    This gave me a good laugh, indeed, jerome's argument applied everywhere would see many unhappy people. Pay some of those dead-weight PC back benchers what they're worth....minimum wage.

  • Bernie
    November 13, 2010 - 09:30

    Good write Russell. If that doesn't hit Danny and his Dannyites hard.....nothing will

  • Average Guy
    November 13, 2010 - 09:30

    Nicely put. I'm sure Mr O'Brien and the other junior ministers would be rushing for equal pay for work of equal value. Oh wait, we value all ministers the same.