556 New People From Guelph on the “Sunshine List” and the Controversy That Comes With It

In Guelph, 556 people joined the “Sunshine List” in 2018 across all government sectors according to the annual disclosure from the Province of Ontario. But while the provincial government’s been making this disclosure every year for the last 23 years, this 2019 release came with some extra politicking.

“Releasing the Public Sector Salary Disclosure compendium is part of our government’s commitment to restoring trust and accountability for the people of Ontario,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, President of the Treasury Board in a press release. “These are your taxpayer dollars, and we remain committed to directing government spending towards front-line programs and services – such as healthcare and education.”

Province-wide, the number of public sector employees making $100,000 or more increased by 19,131 employees, or 14.5 per cent. Since it came to power last summer, the Treasury Board Secretariat has hit pause on all pending compensation and salary adjustments for executives. Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly attacked executive compensation as a place to cut out of a need for fiscal prudence.

“With more than half of government expenses going towards wages, we will continue to review compensation costs through the lens of sustainability,” said Bethlenfalvy. “[W]e must put structures in place that create a culture of efficiency and balance the need to attract necessary talent with respect for taxpayer dollars.”

Guelph By the Numbers

In 2017, Guelph had 1,798 public sector employees making $100,000 or more in compensation. This includes the City of Guelph, County of Wellington, local school boards, the University of Guelph, the Guelph Police Service and associating agencies covered by the municipality or the province.

For 2018, that number was 2,354.

The University of Guelph has the most people that earn $100,000 or more with 961, which is 74 more than 2017. The City of Guelph added 106 more people to the list this year, while the Upper Grand District School Board added 94. The biggest increase on the list for 2018 is the Wellington Catholic District School Board with 233 more people on the “Sunshine List” over 2017.

The highest “Sunshine List” earner in Guelph is the University of Guelph’s President and Vice-Chancellor Franco Vaccarino, who made $423,648.06 in base salary plus $32,745.79 in taxable benefits. Six of the top 10 earners for Guelph on this year’s list are employees of the University of Guelph, including political science professor Maureen Mancuso who’s listed as Past Provost and Vice-President Academic and was the third highest earner from Guelph on the list. She made $318,956.12 in base salary last year and $1,207.80 in taxable benefits.

The sole entry in the Top 10 from the City of Guelph is former Chief Administrative Officer Derrick Thompson who made $423,648.06 last year in base salary with an additional $32,745.79 in taxable benefits.

Marianne Walker, the President and CEO of Guelph General Hospital, is number three with $323,297.83 in base salary and $1,207.71 in taxable benefits. Her colleague, Dr. Truong Nguyen, a pathologist at Guelph General, was also in the top 10 on the “Sunshine List” with $288,941.33.

The Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Nicola Mercer of the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, also made the “Sunshine List” in the number five spot.

Seven local agencies – Community Living Guelph Wellington, the Guelph Community Health Centre, Guelph Family Health Team, Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis, Hospice Wellington, the John Howard Society of Waterloo-Wellington, Legal Aid Ontario, and the Ministry of the Environment – had the same number of employees on the “Sunshine List” in 2018 as compared to 2017.

Meanwhile, Immigrant Services – Guelph-Wellington, Family Counselling & Support Services For Guelph Wellington, the Guelph Wellington Business Enterprise Centre, the Police Services Board, and Action Read Community Literacy Centre were the five listed services with no employees making over $100,000.

Here’s how 2018 compares to 2017 by the numbers:

A Case for Inflation?

The Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act is the name of the actual legislation that calls for the release of the “Sunshine List” every spring. It requires most organizations that receive public funding from Ontario to disclose annually the names, positions, salaries and total taxable benefits of employees paid $100,000 or more in the previous calendar year.

The Act, which was originally passed in 1996, applies to the provincial government, Crown agencies and corporations, Ontario Power Generation and subsidiaries, publicly-funded organizations such as hospitals, municipalities, school boards, universities and colleges, and not-for-profit organizations that meet a funding threshold.

The “Sunshine List” has come to be seen as important barometer of transparency in Ontario, but is it getting out of date? According to the Bank of Canada’s “Inflation Calculator” $100,000 in 1996 is the equivalent of $152,667.42 in today in 2019.

Using this metric, the number of City of Guelph employees alone on the “Sunshine List” would be 25 instead of 339, and all of them managers or assistant managers.

In 2017, the Toronto Star editorial board made the point that the “Sunshine List” should be adjusted for inflation, not because $100,000 isn’t a lot of money, but to get back to the original intent of the Act, which is to questions salaries that are disproportionally high. “It’s time that was done so it will have the meaning it did when it was launched in 1996,” said the editorial. “The goal should be to have a deterrent on out-of-control salary increases, not put innocent workers in the glare of an annual publicity stunt.”

In 2016, the Institute for Research into Public Policy questioned the effectiveness of the “Sunshine List” saying, “Listing public sector salaries does not provide much insight into how efficiently or wisely tax dollars are being spent. Its likely counterproductive and despite a few days of news coverage, the Sunshine List does not likely serve much of a purpose.”

On the other hand, “its not going away any time soon. Imagine a government ending the yearly salary disclosure? The media, the public and the government’s political opposition would pillory them. Even raising the $100,000 threshold would be politically costly, meaning that the Sunshine List is not going anywhere anytime soon. However, that doesn’t mean we need to avoid questions about its relevance.”

You can check out the full “Sunshine List” here.

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