Expand Ontario's Sunshine List

Far more egregious than any one name on the Sunshine List is the sum of its parts.

(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

By: Candice Malcolm

Each spring, Ontario taxpayers get a peek inside the dysfunctional world of Queen’s Park finances.

The annual Sunshine List — disclosing the name and salary of each and every government of Ontario employee earning over $100,000 per year — reminds us just how out of whack these government salaries are compared to what the rest of us earn.

The Sunshine List grew by 14% last year and now includes 111,438 names.

As would be expected, it was chock-full of examples of government entitlement gone wild.

Typical of its release day, reporters spent the afternoon digging through the Sunshine List finding examples of the highest paid executives as well as the most junior employees earning big bucks.

But beyond expressing outrage over any single case of an overpaid bureaucrat, we should remember the bigger picture.

The list was introduced to shine light on the ever-expanding public sector, and to keep tabs on government spending.

Far more egregious than any one name on the Sunshine List is the sum of its parts.

And while Premier Kathleen Wynne now claims a lower deficit this year than previously stated, her government still spends $10 billion more each year than it raises in revenues.

This structural deficit occurs largely because of government employee compensation.

In total, the combined salaries on the Sunshine List cost the public more than $14 billion.

Even that is just a fraction of the $60 billion spent each year on government employee compensation in Ontario.

Is it any wonder this government can’t pay its bills?

The key to balancing Ontario’s budget and chipping away at the $280 billion provincial debt lies in reforming employee compensation.

The Sunshine List is a good place to start.

Here are three ways the Wynne government should improve and enhance the Public Sector Disclosure Act, better known as the Sunshine List:

1. Expand the list to include all government employees.

Every year, someone suggests that $100,000 isn’t really a lot of money — especially in downtown Toronto — and argues for the Sunshine List to be adjusted for inflation. After all $100,000 in 1996 dollars — the year the list was introduced — would equate to about $145,000 in 2015 dollars.

But this argument for less disclosure is misguided.

Critics are correct to say the $100,000 threshold is arbitrary; that is why the Sunshine List should be expanded to include the name and salary of every single government employee, not just those earning over $100,000.

2. Add government contractors to the list.

Another criticism came from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union President Smokey Thomas, who called for contract employees to be added to the Sunshine List.

Thomas is correct. Queen’s Park and Ontario’s municipal governments spend unknown billions on government contracts, many of which are not disclosed or transparent to taxpayers.

3. Include the cost of pensions.

In order to calculate the true cost of each government employee, the Sunshine List should include all benefits, especially pensions.

Gold-plated government pensions represent an increasingly expensive aspect of employee compensation and therefore, in the spirit of disclosure, should be part of the overall calculation.

If Premier Wynne is serious about slaying Ontario’s deficit, she should kill two birds with one stone.

Open up Ontario’s books for more public scrutiny and work to reduce the spiralling costs of government employee compensation.