Editorial: Keep letting the sunshine in

The top five legal earners on the province’s sunshine list received a relatively modest increase in pay in 2009 over the previous year.

In fact, while Ontario Power Generation general counsel David Brennan saw his pay go down by about $17,000 (not including taxable benefits), the highest earners as a group received $85,000 more last year for an increase of five per cent.

That’s not a big pay hike but it’s certainly enough given that in 2009, Ontario was in the depths of the recession. As a result, many Ontarians were receiving no pay hikes at all if they were lucky enough to still have a job.

The release of the sunshine list prompted the usual comments that it might just be time for the government to raise the $100,000 floor for publicly reporting civil servants’ salaries.

Given that the list itself is a creature of former premier Mike Harris’ government of the 1990s, that’s a reasonable argument to make.

Certainly, while some people might be concerned that the number of names on the list has increased over the years, much of that is due to inflation.

At the same time, it’s important to note that the government has been playing catch-up with its employees to make their salaries more competitive with the private sector following years of cutbacks.

Is the sunshine list still relevant then? Should we see the salaries of so many Crown prosecutors whose pay, while generous to the average Ontarian, still often lags behind their private sector counterparts?

The government thinks so. Following the recent release of the list, Premier Dalton McGuinty said he’s not in favour of raising the $100,000 floor because it’s still a lot of money to most people.

That’s true, but given inflation and the need to attract top talent, it’s certainly legitimate to call for an increase after so many years.
Nevertheless, during a period of economic uncertainty and fiscal restraint, it’s not the time to do so.

At the same time, while officials have talked for years about the need to pay civil servants well, particularly the most senior ones, it’s become clear that the big salary packages don’t necessarily deliver the results they seek.

Consider the eHealth Ontario scandal. Last year, the agency awarded former CEO Sarah Kramer a big bonus on top of her $380,000 salary, a move that didn’t appear to get the province very far in its long-sought goal of finally getting Ontario into the modern age of electronic health records.

So it’s clear that quantity doesn’t always deliver quality. As a result, let’s keep letting the sunshine in for those earning more than $100,000. In that way, we still have some leverage to check whether the government is putting those salaries to good use.
- Glenn Kauth

For more on the sunshine list and the Ontario government's remuneration to its employees, see "Nearly 1,600 AG staff earn over $100,000" and "Wage controls and the Ontario budget".

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