COLUMN: Shining a light

The provincial “sunshine” list was released last Thursday, the day before the Easter long weekend. Typical of government hoping the masses are more interested in the holidays, the run up to the Stanley Cup play-offs or a myriad of things other than government employee wages.

The list is a compilation, started 20 years ago by the Mike Harris government, spills the beans on all provincial or municipal government employees earning over $100,000 per year. In 1997 when the first list was released, $100,000 was worth a lot more than it is now. In fact, $100,000 has the buying power of almost $150,000 now. Regardless of the value, the list still shows the top earners for everything from police, to hospital staff, to government, and everywhere between.

The “sunshine” list gives a good indication of where government wages are going, and how much is going to administration instead of front-line services. If nothing else, gives taxpayers something to grouse over. Drill a little deeper and it can solve some mysteries about recent news items.

Of note for Cornwall, three of the top five earners on the list are employees of the Cornwall Community Hospital; five of the top 10 have something to do with the medical field. Given the priority the hospital is to the community, this seems like a good thing. The total for the those top five people, all administration positions between the hospital and the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph of Cornwall, is $916,249.06. That amount of money, or even half of it, would do well to reduce wait times in the emergency department at the hospital. Or provide more beds at the St. Joseph’s Continuing Care facility. In Cornwall, there were 177 employees at various levels of government who made over $100,000 per year.

In the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry (SDG), there were only four employees that made the “sunshine” list. That overall is not bad considering the number of employees the county has and the services provided. A telling issue though is that those administrators received between 5.44 per cent and 8.29 per cent pay increases from the previous year. According to Statistics Canada the average private sector wage increase for the same period is 2.4 per cent. Nice to know when county taxes are needlessly going up two per cent.

The “sunshine” list in the lower-tier governments of SD&G have between one and three people on the “sunshine” list. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for a mystery somewhat solved in South Dundas. This year, South Dundas doubled the number of employees on the list to two. Now past Chief Administrative Officer Steve McDonald, and then acting, now replacement CAO/Treasurer Shannon Geraghty. McDonald was placed on leave in July 2015 and was bought out shortly there after. Yet his reported salary was much higher than the previous year, by 19.05 per cent. Reading the reported numbers from this year compared to previous years can give taxpayers an idea of what they are on the hook for. It can also point taxpayers in the right direction of who to blame for it.

The point of reporting top government wage earners is accountability. Are the policy-makers spending tax money where they should be. The role of government is, in part, to provide the services that we as individuals are unable to provide for ourselves. Administration of said services is required. But are we getting value for money? Is the provider top-heavy in administration, leaving the front-line services to degrade? If not, then there needs to be changes made. Being accountable does not mean that all of the wages are not well earned or deserved. Running organizations, municipalities, or services can be a thankless job. Many are worth what they are paid. But it does not mean it should not be looked at each year.

Historical “Sunshine” list statistics were sourced from: