Majority of PCs vote no on paying bonuses to P.E.I. health workers

P.E.I.’s Progressive Conservative government continues to be dogged by opposition parties and unions over unpaid bonuses to health-care workers. 

The Green Party put forward a motion in the provincial legislature this week to have those payments doled out, but the majority of PC MLAs voted it down on Wednesday. 

Green MLA Matt MacFarlane, who put the motion forward, said it would have presented an opportunity for the Dennis King government to right a wrong that health-care workers continue to talk about. 

A total of $8 million was earmarked for the retention bonuses, but only about half of that was ever spent.

Thursday in the legislature, provincial Health Minister Mark McLane said the government was trying to prevent Veterans Affairs Canada from poaching P.E.I. nurses.

A man with short grey hair and blue blazer sits in a TV studio.
P.E.I. Health Minister Mark McLane says the payments were meant to stabilize the provincial health system and prevent nurses from being poached by Veterans Affairs. (CBC)

“These [bonuses] were implemented to stabilize the system. We often refer to them as bonuses, but we characterize them as a stabilization payment,” he said. “We were trying to stem the flow of retirements and those positions that were moving to the federal government.” 

In 2022, the province paid retention bonuses worth thousands of dollars to some health-care workers, but not others — lab technicians and physiotherapists and respiratory therapists were left out of the bonuses, but nurses, paramedics and resident care workers got them.

Former Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam and the agency’s former board chair Derek Key have said the premier’s office went ahead with the bonus plan against the advice of Health P.E.I.

MacFarlane wears a plaid tie and blue shirt and coat. He stands against a backdrop of flags.
Green MLA Matt MacFarlane says he put the motion forward to right a historical wrong. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

“I think I heard the term ‘stabilization.’ Well, unfortunately what the payment did was destabilize the health-care system,” MacFarlane said.

“The opposite effect was achieved, as history has shown.”  

How the vote went

Thirteen MLAs voted no on the motion, including all nine PC cabinet ministers who voted. 

The Greens and Liberals voted in favour, and so did three government backbenchers, Robin Croucher, Tyler DesRoches and Hilton MacLennan.

The International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents physiotherapists and respiratory therapists, among others, said Thursday it was disappointed with the vote and that inaction by the King government continues to hurt P.E.I.’s health-care system.

The union singled out the discussion this week about P.E.I.’s use of travel nurses, which has grown exponentially in the past year.

The government also revealed for the first time Thursday that it’s using agency physiotherapists and respiratory therapists to fill vacancies.

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