CALGARY - Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach says he has asked his health minister to review controversial bonuses given to bigwigs at the province's health superboard.

Stelmach said he's instructed Gene Zwozdesky to look at whether there's a better way to reimburse top public managers.

"Over the last couple of years we've seen public sector salaries — MLAs, ministers, the premier — reduce, just to get through this very difficult period of time," he said Monday.

"Even though the economy is recovering ... I've asked the minister just to review and come back to me personally to see how we can do this differently."

Alberta Health Services financial statements show the executives earned $5.8 million in salary and bonuses in 2009, while at the same time the board ran an $885-million deficit.

The president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, Stephen Duckett, made a total of $744,000, including $595,000 as a base salary and $76,619 in performance bonuses.

Some health groups and opposition politicians have criticized the bonuses, saying they put the focus on money rather than helping people in need.

When asked whether he thought Duckett deserved the money, Stelmach noted that, even with bonuses, Duckett's salary amounts to less than some other CEOs in health positions across the country.

Treasury Board president Lloyd Snelgrove defended spending money on good executives, saying otherwise they could move on to private companies that will pay them top dollar.

"I do know that in the business world that I come from, I had to pay what I had to pay to get people to do the job I wanted to do."

Stelmach spoke about the bonuses at his annual Stampede pancake breakfast, where he flipped pancakes, shook hands and chatted with supporters.

He also said his government is working to help people hit by flooding around Medicine Hat. Stelmach had recently apologized for the province's slow response to the disaster and pledged to change the way the government responds to such calamities.

The premier toured the affected area Sunday, and said that as of the evening, the government had received 1,169 applications for help and had rated 22 as high priority.

"We'll be putting money in the hands of some of the applicants early this week, probably tomorrow," he said.

"At the end of the day, though, there's a lot of work to be done, there's a lot of bridges that have simply just been washed away, there's a lot of sloping on the creeks that is going to require a lot of work."