Tories and NDP point fingers at each other over whopping payout to former WRHA boss

A large payout to the former top boss of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has the Opposition casting blame on the Pallister government, saying their political interference cost the health care system half a million dollars.

Government compensation disclosures show 'shocking' amounts paid to some employees

Milton Sussman, the former president and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, made over $800,000 in 2017. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A large payout to the former top boss of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has the Opposition casting blame on the Pallister government, saying their political interference cost the health care system half a million dollars.

Milton Sussman left his position as CEO and president of the WRHA in June of last year, but recently released compensation disclosures show he got paid over $800,000 that year — almost half-a-million more than he made in 2016.

Sussman was in the role for only a couple of years, taking on the position in 2015 after stints as the clerk of the executive council and deputy minister of health under the former NDP government.

New Democrat health critic Andrew Swan says it was Sussman's association with the former government that got him canned — and in the end the health care system has to pay for it.

"Because of their own decision to part ways with someone with a good track record and a good reputation, there's now $500,000 not available for health care in Manitoba," Swan said.

'A sad legacy'

The Pallister government had a different take on the severance, calling Sussman's contract a "sad legacy" of the NDP government.

"(The NDP) showed time and time again over the years that it wasn't remotely interested in protecting the interests of Manitoba taxpayers," acting health minister Rochelle Squires said in a prepared statement

"The WRHA's current board, which is different from the NDP-appointed board that approved this contract, has made clear its desire to ensure future agreements are structured differently as part of its efforts to maintain a balanced budget."

Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen says he is concerned by the compensation figures and plans to discuss the contracts with the Crown's boards. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Meanwhile, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries' annual disclosure reveals over $600,000 in severance was paid out to four high-ranking former employees  — one of whom left the Crown corporation in 2016.

Under Manitoba's Public Sector Compensation Disclosure Act, government entities must each year disclose the salary of every public sector employee that makes more than $50,000. The salaries include overtime, retirement/severance pay, lump sum payments, vacation payouts and benefits.

Wayne Perfumo, the former vice-president of hospitality and entertainment services, was the highest paid employee at the Crown, pulling in almost $350,000 last year — almost $150,000 more than his pay in 2016.

Another former vice-president, Susan Olynik, who was the VP of corporate communications and social responsibility, was paid almost $340,000 in 2017, an increase of over $150,000 from her pay in 2016.

Meanwhile, Karen Hiebert, the former director of strategic communications, made over $200,000 last year compared to $109,000 in 2016.

Executive left in 2016, also paid in 2017

Larry Wandowich was the chief community relations and marketing officer for Liquor and Lotteries when he left in 2016. He received over $225,000 in 2017 and $195,000 in 2016.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries declined to comment on the severance other than to confirm all four are former employees and all four received severance in 2017. Andrea Kowal said she could not go into detail as to why Wandowich was paid in 2016 and 2017.

Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen admitted the figures are "shocking to the general public," and committed to sitting down to discuss the matter with each Crown corporation's board.

"These numbers are of course concerning to government," said Cullen in a prepared statement. "Further discussions related to executive compensation and severance will take place with all respective Crown corporation boards."

New Democrat MLA Andrew Swan says Cullen's statement is going against the government's pledge not to interfere in decisions of Crown corporations.

"First of all they were very quick to say that they were not going to interfere politically. that they were going to put their people in charge which is what they've done," he said. "And now they don't like what their people are doing. It sounds like Cliff Cullen's going to interfere politically."

Agencies refuse to release disclosure

Crown health agencies are also obliged to release their compensation figures. However, the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, Diagnostic Services Manitoba (now under Shared Health) and CancerCare Manitoba refused to release their compensation disclosure, citing "blackout" restrictions because of the July 17 St. Boniface byelection.

Despite there being nothing in the Election Financing Act that would prohibit the agencies from disclosing their salary compensation, all three refused, citing "advice" they received.

In a previous story by CBC, a spokesman for the government of Manitoba noted that "straightforward, factual content" can be released.


Kristin Annable is a member of CBC's investigative unit based in Winnipeg. She can be reached at