Ontario’s Public Sector Salary Disclosure list, a.k.a. the Sunshine List, is an annual exercise in envy, disgruntlement and titillation. The list names every person who earned more than $100,000 in a given year in the provincial public sector. Taxpayers pore over it and learn of police officers and school board officials making six-figure salaries and wonder why they pursued that Canadian literature degree. But there is a dark side to the Sunshine list that should not be overlooked: Namely, that salary sprawl is running rampant in Ontario’s public service, and it is creating income inequality.
Even the most cursory audit of the 2012 list compared to the first one of its kind, released in 1997 and covering the year 1996, reveals the extent to which public-sector salaries, as well as the sheer number of public-sector employees, have grown in the past 16 years.
Take, for instance, the Regional Municipality of Durham, a large agglomeration of Toronto suburbs, housing developments and small villages whose total population went from 458,616 in 1996 to 608,124 in 2011. In 1996, it listed 11 employees as having salaries of more than $100,000. In 2012, it listed more than 670.
As well, the salaries for some positions in Durham have risen enormously. In 1996, the medical officer of health earned $143,197; in 2012, the position was listed as “Commissioner & Medical Officer Health” and paid $325,278. The chief of police’s salary has gone from $136,333 in 1996 to $242,723 today. In both cases the increases were greater than the compound inflation rate over the last 16 years.
Here is another example: The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, a major hospital in Ottawa, had 13 employees on the Sunshine List in 1996. Today it has 96. A geneticist at the hospital who earned $125,848 in 1996 now earns $182,613.
The most unbelievable increases have occurred in Toronto. In the pre-amalgamation year of 1996, the City of Toronto, plus the surrounding municipalities that were melded into a single city in 1998, as well as the transit commission, the police service and other melded services, named fewer than 200 people on the Sunshine List. Today Toronto lists 7,128, of which more than 375 earn above $150,000 a year and 50 make more than $200,000.
The point, though, is not to single out any particular place or institution (although Toronto does seem to bear deeper examination). The point is that government in Ontario has been growing in an unfettered sprint. The number of names on the list has jumped 39 per cent since 2009 alone. All of these salaries are paid with taxpayers’ money, which is apparently a reasonable burden if you are working in the public sector and getting regular wage increases. But private sector workers have not seen their salaries keep pace with those in the public sector, and in fact may have fallen more than 30 per cent behind when benefits and shorter workweeks are included, according to one study that looked at Canada as a whole.
In short, there is now the Sunshine economy, and the rest of us. And it’s not just Ontario; most governments at all levels across Canada have failed to properly manage their payrolls. They need to address this disparity and control their salary spending before it widens further.