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AHS Bonuses: Critics Accuse Health Minister Fred Horne Of Misleading The Public

Twelve Alberta Health Services top executives will be paid out $637,000 in bonuses.

According to the Calgary Herald, the amount is $157,000 more than the $480,000 paid out to executives last year.

AHS' 2012-13 financial statements were published to the Alberta Health's website earlier this week and detail more than $13 billion in spending.

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne dismissed the entire AHS board last month after its 10 members voted to award $3.2 million in bonuses to 99 employees amid wage freezes and employee cuts - and despite a request from the government to reconsider.

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At the time, Horne said he did not want to meddle in the pay issue, but decided to step in when he learned that some of the executives wanted to forgo the bonus, but were told by the board they had to take it.

However, Horne announced last weekend executives would receive their bonuses.

Critics, however, have accused Horne of misleading the public about the firings, saying his reasons for dismissing the board raise questions.

On June 19 - a week after he fired the board - Horne signed off on the financial statements. While approving the bonuses he continued to tell the public he was seeking legal advice to find out if AHS could revoke them.

According to Global Calgary, upon receiving a report from AHS' new administrator, Janet Davidson, Horne said he realized the executives are lawfully entitled to the pay.

“If AHS were to withhold the payment of this component of their compensation, AHS could be considered in breach of contract as pay at risk made up a part of these employment agreements,” Davidson wrote in a letter to Horne dated June 26, according to CBC News.

“AHS is unable to unilaterally amend these provisions without breaching the terms of the agreements. These employees would be in a position to take legal action against AHS for recovery of the pay at risk and I am advised that the employees likely would be successful,” she continued.

In a written statement to the Calgary Herald, Horne said the senior leaders' decision to accept or reject the bonus would be reflected in next year's statements.

“For the remaining executives, this is a personal decision and an option that they have the right to accept or decline,” he stated.

Two lawyers, when shown a copy of the AHS executive contract, told CBC News the contract was "ironclad" and that Horne had no legal justification for firing the board.

NDP MLA David Eggen insists Horne must have known all along the bonuses would have to be paid.

“The part that leads to a question of trust and integrity is how the government chose to spin this for political purposes,” Eggen told the Calgary Herald.

“I think they sacrificed the super board because they were starting to show and use the independence that they thought was merited or needed to run Alberta Health Services properly,” he told CBC News.

“Was it a direct attempt to mislead Albertans or to be deceptive? Or was it that he had something else in mind?” Sandra Azocar of the Friends of Medicare asked CBC News.

“And that is what people don’t trust anymore, the governance. And what is it that he is doing behind the scenes. Is he making deals behind the scenes? I think it is a sad, sad representation and Albertans should be angry at how this is all being played out.”

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