Pay doubles for appointed Fraser Health board

Dramatic increase in meetings means health authority chair Jim Sinclair is taking home twice as much pay as his predecessor.

By Tyler Olsen | October 14, 2021 |12:32 pm

This story appeared in the October 6 edition of The Current’s daily newsletter. To get the newsletter in your inbox every weekday morning, with immediate access to every story we publish, sign up for free below. See Wednesday’s newsletter here.

Appointees to Fraser Health’s board of directors are taking home dramatically more pay today than four years ago, with the board’s chair earning more than twice as much money than his predecessor.

The pay increases followed the 2017 election and the appointment of Jim Sinclair, a prominent labour organizer and longtime ally of the NDP, as chair, financial disclosure documents show. And while Sinclair pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor, the increasing board pay began more than two years prior to the arrival of the virus.

Fraser Health is the largest health authority in the province, covering a region that spans from White Rock to Hope. Most decisions in the health authority are made by full-time health-care executives, led by the authority’s CEO. But it also has a board (which is entirely separate from the Fraser Valley Regional Hospital District Board) that is tasked with high-level oversight duties, including approving budgets and setting priorities. Appointing like-minded people to health authority boards is one way provincial politicians can exert control over local health decisions.

Before the election of the NDP, Fraser Health’s board met only about once per month. Board members are compensated, in part, based on their workload: Sinclair’s predecessor, Karen Matty, was paid for 12 and a half days worth of meetings in her final full year as board chair. The entire board was paid between $120,000 and $140,000.

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A new era

After the NDP took over and appointed Sinclair in 2017, the board became dramatically more active. But because Fraser Health does not publish the minutes of board meetings nor its agendas, there is little public documentation about what board members have been doing with their time.

Last year, Sinclair was compensated for 90 days worth of meetings, more than six times more than his predecessor’s final year. Much of the increased activity, he said in an interview with The Current, was a function of the pandemic’s demands on the health-care system. But even in the year before COVID struck, Sinclair took part in 52.5 days worth of meetings—quadruple that of Matty. Other board members have also attended more meetings in recent years.

That increased activity meant the entire board is taking home substantially more pay these days. (Although, even with the increases, remuneration for the board remains a tiny proportion of Fraser Health’s total $4-billion budget.)

Board members are paid a retainer of $7,500, with the chair getting $15,000. They are also paid $500 for a full day of official meetings and $250 for a half day. In the 2018/19 fiscal year, the first full year after Sinclair started leading the board and before the COVID pandemic began, pay for board members rose by 52%. Sinclair himself took home $43,651—more than double the $21,250 paid to Matty in her final full year as chair.

Board pay dipped the following year, but not to pre-2019 levels, before skyrocketing last year to $284,887. That’s twice as much as before 2019. Sinclair himself took home $60,000.

Neighbouring Vancouver Coastal Health also saw dramatic increases in the amount spent on its board after the NDP appointed a new chair. But Vancouver Island Health’s board of directors made less money last year than five years prior. The simple explanation for Fraser Health’s increased pay is that the board met far more frequently in official capacities in recent years. But it’s not readily apparent what those meetings have gotten the public, particularly pre-COVID.

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More meetings, more money

Sinclair pointed to the Fraser Health region’s growing population and the demands of COVID. He said he didn’t have specific details on the 50 days of meetings for which he was paid in his first year of his term, before COVID. But he said there were increased meetings between health authority chairs, and that the board set up a committee to deal with the creation of urgent primary care centres and patient care networks in the region.

“We had more meetings with the ministry, I think, perhaps, during that period of time. Other than that, again, we only get paid for official meetings, we don’t get paid for all the other meetings,” he said, alluding to informal conversations that occur but for which members are not paid.

Other committees have also been created to meet with the First Nations Health Authority, and to address Indigenous health and racism, he said. Board costs rose also because of the addition of another member.

Asked if more transparency is needed so the public can see what board members do and how they make decisions, Sinclair said: “I think that’s a fair question. That’s always something we should be looking at. This was the system that was in place when I took over it, but I think public input is important. As a chair, I get phone calls all the time from people in the public and organizations that find out what’s going on. But that’s a good question we should look at.”

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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