- by John Tamming

Last evening, Dr. Ian Arra, our medical officer of health, allowed anger and emotion to deflect hard questions about his $300,000 bonus and dysfunction at his health unit. It can be seen on Youtube, including the line near the end, where he expressed hope that a flamethrower would consume my council seat. I confess, I did not see that one coming.

I have met Dr. Arra in the past and he was gracious enough to tour me around the health unit in early COVID days. I was impressed and said so in our local newspaper. He is a very hard worker and obviously dedicated. But his massive paycheck and serious management issues at the unit made me have second thoughts regarding his leadership.

I expressed in writing my thoughts about that overtime bonus. That number was equal to his base salary and was the highest bonus by far of any of his 33 peers throughout the province. I reviewed his apparent inability to keep quality managers and questioned the quality of his Board oversight.

At Monday’s council meeting, in a rather belaboured and maudlin recitation of all he has done, he proceeded to set up and attack a series of straw men. In no particular order, we saw a photo of his young family and we heard that long term care physicians make $800,000, far more than him. We learned that he did not become a doctor for the money (no one ever said he did). We were asked to believe that he had no idea he was making the coin he was until he opened his 2020 T4 last month. We were told that he was not “corrupt” (again, no one said he was). Having been shocked by the size of his 2020 earnings, he and his wife immediately thought to give some away, to a shelter. But they could not do so now, because it would appear so staged. (Why the donations cannot be made anonymously was left unexplained).

He quite inadvertently, but in painful detail, spelled out what might appear to many to be an inability to delegate. He sends hundreds of emails to everyone all the time, he calls school principals on weekends and early mornings, he is there 24/7 for everyone. He is immersed in everything at the unit. All. Of. The. Time. I was reminded of the late Mayor Rob Ford, answering thousands of cell calls a month and thinking that was somehow sound managerial practice.

As some councillors nodded in agreement, he said my criticisms of his bonus “risked lives” and undermined public confidence. That’s right, holding someone to account amounts to killing people. As though the $300,000 in overtime pay - which was trumpeted through CTV and Global News, did not undermine his credibility long before this small town municipal councillor read the Sunshine List.

What we witnessed was a sustained deflection (intended or not) from the precise issues which I and other area councillors have raised with him and his Board: Was your overtime properly accounted for and was it proper to be paid it in any event? Does the overtime, the turnover of experienced, qualified staff , and a lawsuit reflect poor management? Given that you have never run a health unit before, would it not have been a good (indeed, great) idea to hold onto more of your managers?

Well, off we go now to the next health unit Board meeting to press for real answers all over again.

No one ever said that our medical officer is not dedicated. No one has ever denied that he works long hours, that the pandemic strains families. But the same is true of all other health professionals throughout this crisis who were not allowed access to $300,000 in overtime pay. The only difference, as I see it, is one of entitlement - a sense that a medical degree ought to insulate one from the darts mere mortals suffer.

And not a single councillor called him out. Indeed, a couple apologized to him.

He repeatedly wished for my defeat at the next election (my wife joins him in that, I suspect). Don’t like a politician asking tough questions? Elect a more compliant one. Towards the end of his mournful comments, drawing perhaps on some ancient imprecatory longing, Dr. Arra rather awkwardly expressed the wish that “a flamethrower consume my council desk”.

A flamethrower?





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