Editorial: In need of an update

Last Friday the annual provincial “Sunshine List” was released. The list, started in 1996, publishes the salary and taxable benefits for all Ontario public service employees who earn over $100,000 per year. School boards, hospitals and municipalities are included as well. The $100,000 amount has not changed since the list was started 22 years ago by then Premier Mike Harris.

Harris stated the intent of the list was to hold top civil servants who were the decision makers accountable. In that first year, 4,250 people were on the Sunshine List. That list broke the 10,000 person barrier in 2001, and the 100,000 person barrier in 2015. This year, 132,522 people were listed.

Top managers and key decision makers were the original and intended subjects of the list. Now however, 22 years later, front-line employees are on the list including teachers, nurses, police constables and firefighters. These people are not key decision makers: they are the ones who implement policy, not create it. After 22 years, as an arbitrary guideline, the Sunshine List needs some revision or an update.

Current premier Kathleen Wynne was quoted at a press conference in Toronto about this year’s Sunshine List saying that she was fine with the arbitrary $100,000 amount because “$100,000 is still a lot of money.” Incidentally, Wynne’s salary in 2017 was $208,974.

There is nothing wrong with holding decision makers and top managers accountable. However, 22 years later, focus the list specifically on those individuals and index the threshold amount accordingly. If the Sunshine List had been indexed according to the inflation rate over the last 22 years, the cut-off would now be just over $152,000. That list would include just 20,000 people, all of whom are actually senior administration. The sun would be ‘shining’ on the group of people for whom it was intended.

An alternative, of course, would be to open the list, naming all public sector employees. If a person collects a paycheque from the provincial or municipal governments, he or she should be named.

Obviously naming every public sector employee is too cumbersome. It is also a breach of people’s right to privacy. The $100,000 threshold is an arbitrary number that was randomly chosen and has remained unaltered for two decades. Let’s make the Sunshine List truly relevant. Set a realistic guideline.