Sunshine list cause for alarm, not envy

April 8, 2013
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There are a lot of surprises to be found inside Ontario’s “sunshine list.”

Last year, there were almost 88,500 provincial and municipal employees who earned more than $100,000 in Ontario, according to the annual disclosure of public sector salaries. That’s up 8,823 people, or 11 per cent, from 2011.

And sure, some of them may even live on your street. In Guelph alone, there are well over 1,000 people on the list, from police constables to city workers in not-near-prominent positions.

The University of Guelph has almost 800 people listed. The Upper Grand District School Board had 145 teachers and administrators earning more than six figures, while the Wellington Catholic District School Board had 45 people. The City of Guelph listed another 109 employees.

There are dozens more at the Guelph Police Service, the fire department, Guelph General Hospital and the public health unit, all of them receiving more than $100,000 a year.

Some people may look at that list and be filled with jealously and disgruntlement. And that’s fine. But they’re overlooking the thing they should be most concerned about.

What’s most alarming about the annual public sector salary disclosure is the stunning rate at which our government continues to grow, despite this supposed age of austerity we’re living in.

There is no doubt that tens of thousands of people on the sunshine list work hard, are well trained and well educated, manage significant responsibilities and rightly deserve their salaries. Most people don’t take issue with their compensation, anyway.

And say what you will about some workers being paid six figures for jobs people in the private sector would do for half their rate — there is no doubt there are some people who have no business earning six figures on the public dime.

What the sunshine list really drives home is the growing disconnect between our public sector and the cold realities facing Ontario’s economy. At a time when our province tries to fight a deficit that’s swollen to nearly $12 billion, taxpayers have never paid so many public sector employees so handsomely.

The disparity between the worries of the private sector and the comforts of the public sector have never been so obvious. If you’re on the public payroll, you’re doing fine. You’re living in a different economy from the rest of us: with relative job security, largely immune from recessions and layoffs, and enjoying benefits, pensions and wages many of us can only dream of.

Certainly, inflation is to blame for some of the growth in the size of the sunshine list. By today’s standards, the list that started in 1996 should count salaries of $139,000 or higher. But for most of us, a six-figure salary is still a lot of money.

In this public-sector bubble, money seems to have an abstract value. How else can the province strike a deal with high school teachers that will cost taxpayers an extra $63 million, according to Progressive Conservative MPP and education critic Lisa MacLeod?

And yet some teachers, still stung by having contracts imposed on them, vow to never return to doing extracurriculars. There’s a sense of entitlement at work there that’s hard to understand.

Stories like that give the impression some in the public sector are living on another planet than the rest of us, who have to make due with salaries closer to $46,000 a year — the median single income in Ontario, according to Statistics Canada.

So if you find yourself snooping through this year’s sunshine list, don’t be envious. Instead, be alarmed over what it says about Ontario’s out-of-control public payroll.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer whose column appears every third Saturday. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

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