COLUMN: Sunshine List good for accountability

The release of the annual Sunshine list causes the usual media swell of stories. The Sunshine List is a release from the Ontario government of every provincial or local government employee who earns over $100,000 per year. This includes municipal, school board and publicly-funded agencies of government. Employees of the federal government are not part of the list.
The media swell, and the resulting reader questions are the same every year. Are there too many public employees? Is it a justifiable invasion of these employees privacy making their salaries public? Is $100,000 per year the right threshold for publishing the salaries? The answer to all the above is, yes. The amount for publication is the right amount at $100,000. It is a justifiable invasion of privacy as they are paid by the taxpayer. There are too many public employees, or more specific, too many management and administration positions.
Drill into the Sunshine List further and look at the top salaries, and the percentage of their salary increases. In a climate where we face government deficit spending and alarming long-term debt, are we spending too much on administration?
Yes, even more so at the local level of municipalities and school boards. These are the services that impact us the most on a day-to-day basis.
Part of this lies in the fallacy that amalgamation in the 1990’s was to reduce costs by sharing resources. It has done the exact opposite. Many rural municipalities had few management employees in an office. Most of their small workforce was out repairing roads or running services. In other words, front line services. Now those “super” municipalities have bloated administration, with multi-tiered management structures. Amalgamation has been great for increasing the workforce, not so good for the taxpayer who foots the bill.
The same goes for school boards where amalgamation of many adjacent boards into “super” boards. There was no “trimming of the fat” so to speak. Instead multi-tiered administration took over. Consolidating administration buildings meant building or leasing new space, not trimming excess. What has the growth in administration done for the front line services schools provide?
The Sunshine List does provide insight for the public on what value we get from those who run the services we use.
An example of this is the Eastern Ontario Health Unit. As reported on Cornwall Newswatch, the agency is facing cutbacks to its offices due to funding cuts. The top ten people on the Sunshine List earned $1.4 million in salary in 2016, and had an average raise of two per cent. How many of those deliver the front line services that are the mandate of the EOHU? Why are there cuts, when you have pay increases for the top staff?
School boards are a timely one to look at. Especially in light of the recent round of school closures at the Upper Canada District School Board and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. The CDSBEO had a top ten list earning almost $1.5 million in salary, how many of those employees are delivering front-line education to students? That board had 157 employees that made the list this year. The UCDSB top ten had over $1.75 million in salary and there were 374 employees listed overall.
In fairness to the school boards, not only were board office administrators listed, principals, vice-principals and even some teachers cracked the Sunshine List. In that top ten though, how many deliver front line services? How can school boards justify large administration staff salaries in one hand, while recommending the closure of community schools with the other?
In the lower-tier municipalities that make up SD&G only a handful appeared on the list, usually the CAO for each township. The upper-tier county level only had three. The City of Cornwall yet had a top-ten earning close to $1.6 million, and 150 employees were on the list overall. Running a city is more expensive than rural municipalities, as the list shows.
This leads to the paradox of the Sunshine List. If the list is a measure of accountability, and we can see how the top operates, why are we getting less from the levels of government but paying more? How much administration is there below the threshold of $100,000 and how much of that is really needed to deliver services? The first place where administration cuts in a budget pinch is on front line services. Offices are closed, hours are cut, schools are shut down, programs are trimmed and wait lists grow. Yet the Sunshine List grows. This is the largest list ever, and the list has been around for 20 years.
We are getting less, and paying more for it. The elected boards or volunteer boards, that manage these organizations. The trustees, the councillors, the community volunteers, they are not doing their job to reign in administration and costs. Perhaps it is time we take notice, and put in people who will.