Ontario's Liberal government was at a loss Monday to explain why a former deputy minister of health was paid $762,000 in 2010 when he left government the year before.
The salary for former Deputy Health Minister Ron Sapsford was listed under Hamilton Health Sciences in last week's sunshine list of public sector workers earning more than $100,000 a year.
Sapsford quit the government in 2009 after the $1-billion eHealth scandal, which saw very little progress towards electronic health records, but he still earned more than three-quarters of a million dollars from Ontario taxpayers in 2010.
"I can't comment on that," said Health Minister Deb Matthews. "I wasn't part of the arrangement with him."
Matthews' staff said the government was bound by secrecy so Sapsford himself would have to explain the huge payout, which was listed as $672,916 in salary and $89,152 in taxable benefits.
"By law, we can only disclose what's on the sunshine list," said Matthews' press secretary, Neala Barton. "You'd have to follow up with Ron Sapsford himself for more details."
Sapsford, now the chief negotiator for the Ontario Medical Association, the doctors' lobby, declined comment Monday.
Fired eHealth boss was paid $107,000
Former eHealth boss Sarah Kramer, who was fired in 2009, also made the 2010 sunshine list at $107,000.
The payouts give the impression that the eHealth "boondoggle" continues to impact the amount of money spent on front-line care, said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
"This is an ongoing pattern of Dalton McGuinty using Hamilton Health Sciences as a hiding spot for expensive bureaucrats who don't even work there," said Hudak. "I think it's time that the McGuinty government came clean and explained exactly what has happened."
The New Democrats suspect both Sapsford and Kramer's salaries for 2010 were actually severance payments, and introduced a bill Monday to rein in what they called "excessive compensation and sweetheart severance deals" for public sector executives.
"When they get those golden handshakes, they need to be put on the sunshine list," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. "We don't want to see the hiding of these severance package in other line items."
The government had promised to stop hiding salaries of staff in other budgets, but Sapsford was one of more than 120 government employees whose salaries were listed under — and paid by — local hospitals or school boards.
"This is the second year in a row where his salary was hidden, and if we recall, it was hidden last year because it was much more than the guidelines were for a deputy minister's salary," said Horwath. "To get around the guidelines, the government hides the majority of his salary in the Hamilton Health Sciences budget."
Premier Dalton McGuinty denied salaries like Sapsford's were hidden, noting they were also published in a separate list of staff seconded to other agencies, a list journalists were unaware before Monday.
"I thought there was a new part of the sunshine list that spoke to those kind of arrangements, that they would become transparent," said McGuinty. "We worked this year to ensure that those were fully disclosed so that it'd be easier for you guys to seize upon them."