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Critics: Sunshine List threshold unchanged amidst varying economic landscape

Jeremy Appel
Queens Park/City Hall Reporter

Good gravy, Mr.Whitaker.

Ontario’s 2014 Public Salary Disclosure, also known as the Sunshine List, of provincial public servants with annual incomes over $100,000 was released last week and topping Humber’s list is college President and CEO Chris Whitaker.

He earned $425,282 with an additional $23,092 in taxable benefits last year.

That’s a paltry sum compared with the $1.55 million made by the overall list’s top earner, Ontario Power Generator CEO Tom Mitchell.

The average Ontarian makes less than $75,000 a year, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada.

Mike Gamble, an instructor for Humber’s Police Foundations program, is one of about 280 Humber employees who appear on the list.

He says the threshold ought to be raised to $140,000 from $100,000 to keep pace with inflation since the list’s inception in 1996.

“While I believe in public accountability, the threshold for the Sunshine List has not changed in 18 years,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“Meanwhile, the average cost of a house in Toronto has almost tripled and the cost of living has grown roughly 40 per cent,” wrote Gamble.

Teeter Leinveer was Humber’s human resources director before his 2014 retirement. He appears on the previous year’s Sunshine List.

He says he understands why many public servants are uncomfortable disclosing their salaries but sees nothing wrong with it personally.

Perhaps Ontario ought to adopt the Norwegian model where private salaries are also public knowledge, Leinveer suggested.

He acknowledged the $100,000 threshold as arbitrary.

“There’s nothing particularly meaningful about that number other than it’s a nice round one. I would suggest the only reason it’s been around as long as it has is because it’s a political hot potato to try and change it,” Leinveer said.

Trish Hennessey, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, places the list in the context of former premier Mike Harris’s assault on the public sector.

The Harris government passed the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act in 1996, which Hennessey says was a means of delegitimizing the civil service.

“The political motivation behind (the Sunshine List) was to embarrass the public sector and fuel perceptions that the public sector was overpaid,” she said.

“When you compare managers and CEOs in the private sector with managers in the public sector, there’s a real gap. Private sector CEOs and managers are paid a higher premium,” Hennessey said.

Hennessey is not opposed to making public sector wages transparent but says this transparency should be extended to the private sector where there is much more inequality and waste.

“When you’re shining the spotlight on one sector you should make sure you’re shining it on another as well,” she said.

Audrey Taves, who represents most of Humber’s faculty as the president of Ontario Public Service Employees Unions Local 562, concurs.

She says the public ought to be able to compare wages in the public and private sectors to decide for themselves who is overpaid.

“I think that would provide a more accurate picture of what’s going on, but I don’t see anyone rushing to do it,” Taves said.   

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