Alberta Health Services has released a statement standing by its decision to give bonuses to top executives this year despite the criticism it has sparked.

Cancelling the bonus payments so close to the end of the fiscal year would not be fair, according to the statement released on Wednesday.

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Alberta Health Services chairman Stephen Lockwood says it would be wrong not to compensate senior executives for work already completed. (CBC)

"These people have already done the work, and it would be wrong from many perspectives to not compensate them as per their terms of employment," said AHS board chairman Stephen Lockwood.

AHS will scratch the bonuses, or "pay-at-risk" payments, for next year as part of its plans to cut 10 per cent from its administrative budget. 

"We are also reviewing the compensation and position of each senior leader," the AHS statement said.

AHS officials say the pay-at-risk component that is part of the overall compensation package for senior leads has already been budgeted for, and is covered in the 2012-13 budget.

Redford government 'disappointed'

The premier's office said the health authority should consider curbing the bonuses immediately rather than waiting until next year, given the current fiscal climate.

"While AHS should be commended for the leadership they have shown in eliminating "pay-at-risk" bonuses next year, we're disappointed that they intend to award bonuses this year," said Stefan Baranski, a spokesperson for the premier's office.

"In light of the bitumen bubble, and the $6-billion hit on Alberta's revenues this year, we're focused on protecting funding for front-line health care. We have put in place a very clear long-term plan to ensure that government lives within its means. That includes holding the line on salaries right across the public sector."

Earlier this year, Finance Minister Doug Horner announced a three-year salary freeze for all public service managers as well as a 10 per cent reduction in their numbers.

Health Minister Fred Horne says he thought the provincial government's expectations were clear given Alberta's multibillion-dollar deficit.

"We were looking at agencies, boards and commissions like AHS to provide some leadership," he said. "I'm disappointed that they're not going to change the plan with respect to this year's bonuses, and I think taxpayers are disappointed and I think it's important to acknowledge that." 

Wildrose slams payments

According to AHS, the top 13 executives received roughly $480,000 in bonuses last year but 100 senior staff members were eligible for roughly $2.4 million in pay-at-risk compensation in 2012.

The amount designated for bonuses this year will not be determined until June.

Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth says AHS should be putting that money back into Alberta's health-care system.

"Albertans are sick and tired of seeing health bureaucrats pocket big bonuses while they continue to miss their own performance targets," Forsyth said.

"This is a slap in the face to taxpayers and it shows that AHS and this government continue to put themselves ahead of patients."

The Wildrose Party is calling on the provincial government to do more than just being disappointed, and is hoping Horne or Premier Alison Redford will flat out stop the bonuses.