Editorial: Sunshine List shows need for more restraint

Last week, Law Times’ report on the top-earning public-sector lawyers showed evidence of both attempts at and an absence of restraint.

On the one hand, many Crown prosecutors actually saw declines in their earnings in 2010 over their 2009 pay. Crown attorney Antonio Loparco, for example, took home $194,035 in 2010, down from $199,019.

Crown counsel David Lepofsky, meanwhile, earned $198,808 last year. In 2009, his pay was $207,030. In addition, David Costen, portfolio director for government and social services at the Ministry of the Attorney General, took a $4,000 cut last year.

In fact, many prosecutors at the top of the list had reductions of about $5,000. It’s good, then, to see that at least the Ministry of the Attorney General appears to have taken the government’s bid to restrain public-sector remuneration to heart.

We all know that after the province attempted to declare an across-the-board salary freeze affecting the broader public sector as well, arbitrators went ahead and awarded increases anyway in labour disputes that had reached an impasse.

So while the Liberal government failed to achieve its overall goal, it made attempts to cap the pay of its own employees.

The broader public sector, including Crown corporations, agencies, and institutions such as universities, is a different story. The highest-earning public sector lawyer, David Brennan of Ontario Power Generation, got a $10,000 raise.

Mary Martin, another big earner at Metrolinx, got an increase of more than $15,000. But at York University, faculty at Osgoode Hall Law School received conspicuously large income hikes that dean Lorne Sossin gives very reasonable explanations for.

Professor Douglas Hay, for example, got a 21-per-cent boost to his earnings. In 2010, he took home $217,791, up from $179,602 the year before. A colleague, associate professor Marilyn Pilkington, earned $210,770 last year after taking in $188,647 in 2009.

As Sossin legitimately points out, the increases were due in part to the effect of a retroactive pay increase of three per cent resulting from the timing of negotiations. That meant professors received two three-per-cent raises at once.

And he notes the Sunshine List information includes not just salaries but also stipends from teaching continuing legal education courses and for added administrative roles some of the professors who had big increases took on.

But compared with the numbers for the government lawyers, it’s clear that the broader public sector in general hasn’t done enough to rein in salaries. That includes not just well-paid legal professionals but also other government workers such as those who have benefited from pay hikes through arbitration rulings despite the mandated freeze.

At the end of the day, if Canada is going to continue to do well following the recession and control massive government debt, we have to get labour costs, particularly those related to benefits and pensions in the public sector, under control.

Reforming the arbitration system to mandate that arbitrators consider remuneration for comparable jobs in the private sector, something commentator Michael Warren proposed in a recent Toronto Star article, is a good place to start.

To see Law Times' listing of the top legal earners, see "More than 1,600 AG staff earn over $100,000."
— Glenn Kauth

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