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Much has changed in a quarter-century. Why hasn’t Ontario’s Sunshine List?

Publish date: Wednesday, March 24, 2021 update

image of old flip cell phone, Spice Girls and VHS tape

Ontario remains still stuck in the last century when it comes to the so-called Sunshine List, which was released on Friday, AMAPCEO says. The union, which represents Ontario’s 14,000 professional employees, believes that because the list hasn’t been indexed to inflation, it has lost sight of its original purpose: transparency about the pay of the very highest earners on the public payroll.

The annual list includes public sector employees in Ontario who earned over $100,000 last year. The list is mandated by the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act enacted by the Harris government, with the first list released in 1996. 

“Much has changed in a quarter century,” AMAPCEO President Dave Bulmer said. “So why hasn’t the Sunshine List?”

In 1996, Los del Río’s “Macarena” topped the music charts. Independence Day broke box-office records. AltaVista was the Internet’s most popular search engine—Google hadn’t even registered its URL yet.

But most importantly, $100,000 had a lot more buying power than it does now. If the list were adjusted for inflation, the threshold for salary disclosure would be about $157,663 today1—a nearly 60 per cent increase.

The union pointed to a few other comparisons for context:

  1996 2021 Change
Sunshine list threshold $100,000 $100,000 --
Average house price in Toronto $198,1502 $1,045,4883 443% ↑
McDonald's Big Mac $2.864 $5.695 100% ↑
Average movie ticket price $5.166 $10.177 97% ↑
Cost of a litre of gas in Toronto $0.568 $1.189 111% ↑

 

AMAPCEO has long advocated that the list be indexed to inflation. Not doing so betrays its intended purpose, Bulmer explains.

“The list was designed to make the growing salaries of Ontario’s senior-most executives more transparent,” he said. “It was never meant to include the talented, hands-on public servants and professionals who keep Ontario’s public services operational.”

The union specified that by not adjusting for inflation, the list now includes those earning the equivalent of $63,427 in 1996 dollars—hardly the province’s top decision-makers.

“If you were bringing in the Sunshine List today, when the average house in Toronto costs more than a million dollars, and you proposed a salary threshold of $63,000, you’d be laughed out of the room,” Bulmer said.

Bulmer also argues there’s no public benefit to disclosing non-managerial employees’ individual names on the list.

“There’s certainly a public accountability case to be made for naming the big fish, the million-dollar CEO of a public agency or crown corporation who gets snagged,” he said. “However, is there really a need to name all the small fish who get caught up in what’s become nothing more than a political dragnet?”

To that end, the union has also proposed that the names of individual, non-executive employees be removed from the list to protect their privacy. When the concept of a salary disclosure list was first floated in 1994, the Toronto Star warned in an editorial that “the people to whom the information may be of interest—angry spouses, nosey neighbors, competitive colleagues—also would be the most likely to abuse it.10

What the editorial worried about is, unfortunately, exactly what has come to pass. In 2018, for example, AMAPCEO assisted one of its members whose safety was compromised when her stalker used the Sunshine List to track her down and continue her harassment.

Anonymizing the list, save for the truly big fish, would help improve the safety of civil servants. AMAPCEO further noted that if the list threshold were adjusted for inflation, virtually none of their members would appear on it.

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1 https://www.bankofcanada.ca/rates/related/inflation-calculator/
Toronto Regional Real Estate Board
3 Ibid.
4 https://www.economist.com/big-mac-index?gclsrc=aw.ds&gclid=CjwKCAjwgOGCBhAlEiwA7FUXkgYDdeO42JLWzmQDroiPGmdIOSt1Lbb4G56oGDMoNrDJX-E0R7_MQxoCd8kQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
5 Ibid.
6 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/81-595-m/81-595-m2006038-eng.pdf?st=t7TgnlbJ
7 https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/cineplex-inc-reports-fourth-quarter-and-year-end-results-858734888.html
8 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-402-x/2010000/chap/ener/tbl/tbl03-eng.htm
9 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1810000101
10 “Public pay” Toronto Star 30 January 1994, E2
 

More about AMAPCEO and our Members: Established in 1992, AMAPCEO is a bargaining agent that represents 14,000 professional and supervisory public servants, most of whom work directly for the Government of Ontario in every ministry and in a number of agencies, boards and commissions; in 130 communities throughout Ontario and in 12 cities outside Canada. We also represent employees outside the Ontario Public Service in: the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario; the Ontario Arts Council; Ontario Health (Quality Unit); Public Health Ontario; the Waypoint Mental Health Centre in Penetanguishene; and in the former Offices of the Ontario Child Advocate and the French Language Services Commissioner (now part of the Ontario Ombudsman).