The Hamilton Spectator

Sunshine List needs updating


Like same-sex kissing on TV or high speed internet, the Sunshine List was once legitimate­ly shocking to many Ontarians. After all, in 1996, when the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act required public organizati­ons to publish the names and salaries of employees paid $100,000 or more, that figure — 100 grand — meant something profoundly different than it does today.

According to Toronto Star reporters Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson, writing about the Sunshine List last month, “The Bank of Canada inflation calculator shows $100,000 in 1996 would be the equivalent of $175,370 in 2023. Conversely, $100,000 last year was equal to $57,020 in 1996.”

It would not have been big news that thousands of Ontarians were making $57,000 annually in 1996. Therefore, it should not be big news that they are making $100,000 and change today, when the average Ontario home sells for nearly nine times that amount.

Yet, due to the fact that the criteria for the Sunshine List has not evolved to reflect inflation, Ontarians are forced to endure the same phoney song and dance every March when the list is published; a song and dance in which pundits and politician­s feign outrage about the fact that thousands of public servants earn a living wage.

Of course, there are glaring exceptions to this rule at the top of that list, where the likes of Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster earned a salary of more than $800,000 in 2023.

It is reasonable that Ontarians know who the top public earners in the province are when they are picking up the tab. And it is reasonable that they balk at the bloated salaries of those whose names appear where the sun shines brightest.

But it is wildly unfair to balk at the list in its totality, because it casts far too wide a net; a net that includes teachers, firefighte­rs, nurses, paramedics, police officers and other public servants who deserve every cent they earn and more.

On a personal note, as someone who finds herself inside buildings on a regular basis, I don’t particular­ly mind that there are several building code examiners at the City of Toronto who earned roughly $120,000 last year. Nor does it bother me that the firefighte­r who would pull me out of a building should it erupt in flames earns something similar.

I don’t even mind that the public servants and political staffers who craft the policy that shapes our society earn a decent wage. In fact, I would be concerned if they didn’t, not just for them, but for me.

We complain about the public service when it fails us; when it’s slow and ineffectiv­e and mired in red tape.

We complain when nothing changes for the better in our communitie­s. And then, paradoxica­lly, we suggest that the people running it should earn less money — as though that will improve their performanc­e.

It was pathetic, for example, when Liberal MPP John Fraser appeared to evoke the Sunshine List this month to take a shot at Premier Doug Ford, because the number of staffers in his office earning more than $100,000 a year more than doubled.

“The gravy train has pulled into the premier’s office,” Fraser said, turning a favourite piece of Ford family lingo on the premier.

Whatever one’s feelings about the current administra­tion at Queen’s Park, there is a place that committed, talented public servants and political staffers go when they’ve reached the top of their profession­al game. It’s called the private sector: a world where they can earn a lot more money, their names don’t appear on a public list and we don’t benefit from their skills.

It’s in our best interest that members of the public service are compensate­d fairly. And the only way to paint a fair picture of that compensati­on in Ontario is to change the sunshine list criteria to reflect inflation.

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