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Sunshine list extra galling in these times

Coming on the heels of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s call for restraint, the new sunshine list – detailing those public sector employees making more than $100,000 a year – seems especially cruel.

That, of course, was the intention of the Harris government, which made reporting such salaries mandatory beginning in 1996. The idea was to show the public how many government employees were pulling in large dollars, even as their unions cried poor in the face of the Conservatives’ fiscal policies.

If people were incensed by the 4,319 names on that first list, what are they to make of the 63,837 who made north of $100,000 in 2009? This list has grown in leaps and bounds over the years; the increase from last year alone was 19 per cent. In the last three years alone the number on the list has grown by 91 per cent, from 33,440 in 2006.

Perusing the list, few Ontarians would have trouble with the salaries paid to doctors, researchers and similar professionals. There would undoubtedly be some eyebrows raised over bus drivers, utility workers and the like raking in money far in excess of what the average taxpayer makes.

While many work for the provincial government, Waterloo Region is not without its share. Not surprisingly, the universities are well represented. At the regional government level, 213 names grace the list, 115 of which work for the Waterloo Regional Police, up from 128 and 73 respectively in 2008.

The City of Kitchener boasts 92 names (50 in 2008), Cambridge 53 (47) and Waterloo 25 (15). Of the four townships, there were five employees on the sunshine list in Woolwich and one in Wellesley, while Wilmot had three. North Dumfries had no one on the list.

The local numbers pale in comparison to the City of Toronto, where taxpayers are on the hook for some 4,000 employees earning six figures.

Inclusion on the list puts those government employees in the top five per cent of all earners in the province.

Once seen as a place where job security came with lower wages, public service now means higher-than-average pay, benefits and working conditions.

For 2009, Statistics Canada reported the average weekly earnings for a private-sector employee was $823.53. For those in public administration, that figure was $1,071.16 on average. Federally,  that figure was $1,324.27 per week; provincially it was $1,163.83 and locally $876.99.

The discrepancy is likely to rise. Average industry wages are expected to increase in marginally this year, nothing like the pace expected in the public sector.

Yet, as we’ve seen in this area, government employees are receiving multi-year deals worth, on average, three to four per cent a year. With no bottom line – politicians seem to have few qualms about dipping deeper on their repeated trips to the well – governments simply pass the increases along to a public forced to pay taxes, a far cry from the situation faced in the private sector.

Few would begrudge civil servants a decent wage, but when those supported by public money begin making more than those paying the freight, friction is bound to follow – a boiling point may be reached as the gap widens.

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