We are in the middle of a blizzard of reviews. The Province wants to know our views on our municipalities and how they are run and whether we should change the voting system and much else besides.

Unfortunately, there is no review (yet) of the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act 1996 which spawns the annual Sunshine List. It gives pundits and commentators an opportunity once a year to slag off and berate those working in the public sector. (Personally, I think the vast majority of people in the public sector do a good job and deserve a round of applause.)

These days, the Sunshine List includes many people who should not be on it. Its original rationale – now lost – was to capture the very top earners. So many people are now on it, the list has turned into a form of salary voyeurism allowing nosey-parkers to find out what their neighbour is earning. If we want real transparency then we should publish everyone’s tax returns as they do in Finland.

Frozen since 1996

The $100,000 salary, fixed in 1996 and unchanged since, should now be $142,584 in 2015 – a 42.5% increase when adjusted for inflation using the Bank of Canada’s inflation converter.

There was an astonishing 14% increase in the number of Ontario public sector workers crossing the $100,000 threshold last year. There are now 111,438 public sector workers on Ontario’s 2014 Sunshine List. The average salary of those on the list is $127,178.

Sunshine List and its Anomalies

Despite the huge amount of attention given to the Sunshine List it is shot through with anomalies.

My attention was first drawn to this a few months ago when Newmarket Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, loudly complained to the Toronto Star that they got his salary wrong. The paper subsequently published a correction – revising it sharply downwards from $182,000 to $159,856 but even that doesn’t tell the whole story. He gets about $10,000 a year from a second job with the Hydro that derives from his primary job (Mayor of Newmarket) but that useful dollop of cash is excluded from his remuneration as disclosed in the Sunshine List.

Base salary + Taxable Benefits

Van Bynen gets a base salary from Newmarket of $91,313 plus various benefits such as Canada Pension Plan ($2,425) and OMERS ($14,704) totaling $16,383. The Town recovers $8,794 from the Region of York which represents the Region's share of contributions for OMERs and the CPP. This brings the total to $107,697. Other expenses carried by the Town such as the auto allowance ($6,463) and discretionary expenses such as tickets to events and fuel and vehicle maintenance and so on ($5,381) are quite properly excluded from his total remuneration. (Business lunches and so on are covered in a separate Corporate Expenses category and are, of course, excluded.)

We must now add on to the Mayor’s Newmarket remuneration the $52,987 he gets from the Region of York. (He has a seat on the Regional Council by virtue of his position as Mayor of Newmarket.) This takes his total remuneration ($107,697 + $52,987) to $160,684. But since the Star’s correction gives him $159,856 I must have make some kind of error in my calculations. Still, as from next year, the hydro remuneration will be added to the total bringing Van Bynen up around $170,000.

By any measure, he qualifies to be on the Sunshine List. Indeed, when Van Bynen chided the Toronto Star for getting the figures wrong he gave a revised total which lumped together his Newmarket and York Region remuneration.

A Tale of Two Cities: Newmarket's Mayor is on the Sunshine List but Aurora's Mayor is not

Van Bynen’s next door neighbour, Geoffrey Dawe, Mayor of Aurora, is noticeable by his absence from the Sunshine List. His base remuneration for 2014 was a relatively modest $61,492 with benefits of $17,869 giving a total of $79,361. (Excluded from this total, quite properly, are vehicle and travel allowance ($8,470) and other expenses ($1,830). Dawe’s total remuneration shown above excludes the $55,162 he gets from serving on York Region by virtue of his position as Mayor of Aurora. If this were added it would comfortably put Mayor Dawe in the Sunshine List. (Dawe also gets an honorarium of $3,000 for serving as Vice Chair of the Lake Simcoe Region conservation authority which may or may not account for the difference in York Region salaries for Van Bynen and Dawe.)

The Province really needs to update or, better still, index the Sunshine List threshold so that it doesn’t ensnare more and more people every year, moving away from the original intention. An updated Sunshine List with a $145,000 threshold would exclude the (relatively) frugal Geoffrey Dawe but capture Newmarket's Tony Van Bynen.

In any event, it needs to be clarified beyond doubt that total remuneration from second and third (or more) jobs that derive from the primary job of Mayor should be included in the List.

If it is to have any value, the Sunshine List should allow us to compare apples with apples.

At the moment, it doesn't.

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