“de-mur: to make objection; especially on the grounds of scruples”—Dictionary.com
Neala Barton has the uncanny ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and emerge unscathed. She was a communications staffer for Ontario health minister David Caplan—until he resigned over the eHealth scandal. She moved on to become Dalton McGuinty’s press secretary—until he resigned to avoid the Ornge air ambulance scandal and a political crisis triggered by his cancellation of two gas plants.
Ms Barton then joined Alison Redford’s team as press secretary. She lasted one year before the whole thing went pear-shaped.
You’d think that all these unexpected career interruptions would make a girl jaded and cynical. Not so with Ms Barton.
Unlike her colleagues, Ms Barton demurred when offered a severance package estimated to be in the $100,000 range. Why? Because she was in negotiations for another job when Ms Redford resigned and thought she didn’t need or deserve the money.*
This was a remarkable decision given that the government was obligated at law to pay her severance.
Pause for a moment to consider Ms Barton’s decision in light of another severance scenario–the the Alberta Health Service (AHS) executives who got the boot when Health Minister Horne “rightsized” the organization. Wouldn’t it have been nice if he’d gotten the “sizing” right the first time and spared us the chaos and expense, but I digress…
The Alberta Health Service Annual Report 2013-2014 states that five former AHS executives received a total of $2.4 million in severance. Note, this amount excludes “soft” severance which is disguised as paid leave and consulting contracts. The value of these arrangements would likely boost that number by another million dollars.
The ineptitude of Minister Horne in creating this situation is breathtaking.
Soft severance is still severance
When Dr Chris Eagle was stripped of his CEO role and “moved to the position of Special Advisor to the Official Administrator” for 12 months, he didn’t get severance. However the “special advisor” job was created out of thin air, there was no change to his $580,000 pay packet and he kicked off his 12-month stint with a 3-month paid “sabbatical leave”.** It’s a little difficult to characterize this arrangement as anything but severance.
Dr Eagle was replaced as CEO by Mr Duncan Campbell. Mr Campbell had been the CFO. He replaced Allaudin Merali who held the CFO position from May to Aug 2012 when he was fired for mismanaging his expenses with the Capital Health Region. (Mr Merali wants the severance he’d been promised and is suing AHS for $6 million.)
Mr Campbell lasted less than a month in the CEO’s office before he was punted. He went on a 4-month paid leave and was awarded a $500,000 consulting contract with AHS. AHS threw in $43,000 to cover his “relocation” expenses. Not bad for someone who’d been CFO for 6 months and CEO for less than one month.
The severance jackpot
The jackpot goes to Dr David Megran who was on “secondment from the University of Calgary” when he was fired.***
The term “secondment” means being on temporary assignment to another department or organization. A “seconded” employee usually maintains his position in his home organization and is paid by his home organization which retains liability for the employee in the event he gets fired by the host organization.
For some bizarre reason, AHS turned this logic on its head. AHS describes its relationship with Dr Megran as a “secondment” but for all intents and purposes it treated Dr Megran like an employee. It paid Dr Megran’s salary and put Dr Megran into its benefits plan including its executive pension plan. The result—a severance payout totalling $730,000 and a lump-sum pension payout of $1.06 million.
Dr Megran didn’t miss a beat. He simply picked up his $2.2 million cheque and returned to work at the University of Calgary.
Whoever negotiated Dr Megran’s contract should be shot.
A gift horse
Far be it from me to blame the AHS executives for accepting the hundreds of thousands of dollars they were legally entitled to collect upon termination simply because Health Minister Horne and his predecessors were idiots.
But Ms Barton’s decision to look a gift horse in the mouth made me wonder. Is it easier to turn down $100,000 than $2.2 million? Does it make a difference if you’re young and starting out in your career or established and nearing the end? Is this a moral question as well as a legal one?
One thing is for sure. We’ll be seeing more of Ms Barton. She’s working as a communications officer for the organizing committee for the 2015 Pan-Am games. They’ve already lost a CEO and two senior VPs and the Ontario Tories smell a scandal.
Tory MPP Rod Jackson accused the Ontario Liberals of mismanaging the Pan Am games and railed on about Ms Barton who, he says “shows up in gas plants, Premier Redford scandals and now Pan Am”…as if these misguided decisions were somehow her fault.****
Given the Tory vitriol one would hope that if the Pan-Am job ends badly Ms Barton will be offered a decent severance package. And she takes it.
Because if anyone deserves to walk away with a windfall, it’s Ms Neala Barton.
*Calgary Herald, July 5, 2014, A5
**AHS Annual Report 2013-2014, page 146, note (t)
***AHS Annual Report 2013-2014, page 145, note (o)