There is something inherently galling about the so-called sunshine report, the list of public sector employees making more than $100,000 a year.
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 97,796 who made north of $100,000 in 2013? This list has grown in leaps and bounds over the years; the increase from last year alone was 11 per cent.
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, firefighters 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, 608 names grace the list, 383 of which work for the Waterloo Regional Police, up from 128 and 73 respectively just five years earlier in 2008.
There are eight employees on the sunshine list in Woolwich (five in 2008) and one in Wellesley (unchanged).The local numbers pale in comparison to the City of Toronto, where taxpayers are on the hook for some 9,700 employees earning six figures, more than double the 4,000 at the level in 2008.
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.
The average wage for Ontarians in 2013 was $48,900.
The discrepancy between government workers and those in the private sector is likely to rise. Average industry wages are expected to increase marginally this year, nothing like the pace expected in the public sector.
Yet, as we’ve seen in this area, government employees are receiving deals above the private sector average. 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.
The argument that the threshold for reporting salaries should be adjusted for inflation ($100,000 in 1996 translates to $145,000 today) makes sense only to those who would seek to hide runaway growth in public sector salaries. It’s no overstatement to say $100,000 is still a significant amount of money, far more than most Ontarians make. Saying someone has a six-figure salary has meant something for decades. Though inflation has eroded the buying power, it’s still enough to put the recipient in a category that excludes 95 per cent of the public.
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.