Dr. Brent Roussin rewarded with 47 per cent raise during pandemic Chief provincial public health officer paid more than $634,000 between April 2021 and March 2022
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This article was published 03/10/2022 (243 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba’s chief public health officer received a significant pay bump as he steered the province through the pandemic, allowing him to leap past the salaries of counterparts in Ottawa and other provinces.
Between April 2021 and March 2022, Dr. Brent Roussin earned $634,301 as a senior medical officer with the Manitoba government, according to provincial public accounts records.
That salary covered a period of significant change and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, including the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, an overloaded critical-care system that saw 57 patients sent out of province and the gradual economic reopening ahead of the sudden emergence of Omicron in late December.
Compared to the 2020-21 fiscal year, Roussin’s annual salary grew by 47 per cent and was $224,300 higher than the $410,000 he was hired at in June 2019.
The provincial government would not explain Monday why its top doctor received the pay bump and declined to answer questions about overtime, bonuses or vacation payout for the physician who also holds a law degree.
“While the province does not comment on personnel matters, all compensation provided to staff is in accordance with the provisions in their respective employment agreements, the Public Service Regulations, or any applicable collective agreement,” a government spokesperson said in a statement.
However, compensation amounts disclosed by the government can often include overtime and vacation payout on top of base pay, the spokesperson added.
Roussin, who continues to practise at a St. James-area clinic, also received $220,626 in billings and fees for service last year, according to the latest annual report from Manitoba Health.
Despite the hefty paycheque, Roussin was only the second-highest compensated person on the Manitoba government’s payroll.
Former chief provincial psychiatrist Dr. Richard Zloty earned $893,863 last year.
Zloty, who was responsible for administering the Mental Health Act and signing off on committeeship orders, among other responsibilities, was in the role for more than a decade, a provincial spokesperson said.
Dr. James Simm has since assumed the position of director of psychiatric services.
University of Manitoba professor and ethicist Arthur Schafer said it is incumbent on the provincial government to justify Roussin’s “extraordinary” pay increase, given Manitoba holds the second-highest COVID-19 death rate in the country.
And in the absence of an explanation from government, he argued the cynical observers will consider the increase to be a “financial reward” for not challenging government policy with respect to the pandemic response.
“If one wants to be uncharitable, one could he say that he’s been, if not a disaster, certainly not a success on the job, and yet he’s getting a huge reward from a government that doesn’t reward any of its other officials,” Schafer said.
“It looks terrible.”
Public compensation disclosure reports also suggest the Manitoba government paid its top public-health physician at a rate that outpaced other chief medical officers last year, including Alberta’s Dr. Deena Hinshaw and the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Dr. Theresa Tam.
Hinshaw was paid a $363,633 salary and received a $227,911 cash benefit, for a total income of $591,544 between January and December 2021, according to the Alberta government. Her cash earnings increased by 62 per cent, year over year. The cash benefit can include overtime, vacation payout and other lump-sum payments.
Canada’s chief public health officer was reappointed in June for a three-year term with a maximum base salary of $324,400, a spokesperson for Health Canada said in an emailed statement.
“Specific salary, including earned performance pay, is considered personal information and cannot be disclosed,” spokesperson Anna Maddison said.
Schafer said Manitoba’s pandemic response compared poorly with other provinces on measures including fatalities, hospitalizations and infection, and in that context, the government must explain how it came to its decisions on compensation.
“Roussin made decisions, or deferred to government in making decisions, that were at variance with other provinces and produced worse results,” he said.
In Quebec, chief public health officer Dr. Horracio Arruda, who resigned in January, earned a base salary of $305,000, according to provincial disclosure. Ontario’s Dr. Kieran Moore took $235,314 in 2021, after being appointed on June 26 last year. Compensation for British Columbia’s Dr. Bonnie Henry was not readily available.
Saskatchewan chief public health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab earned $411,416 in 2020-21. The government had yet to release public compensation records for the past fiscal year as of Monday.
Former COVID-19 vaccination-implementation task force co-leads Dr. Joss Reimer and Johanu Botha earned $406,928 and $116,123, respectively, according to public accounts. Deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal was paid $390,563.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.