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The Controversy of the Sunshine List

As the government is trying to crack down on the amount of unaffordable debt people are taking on, and as students are crying louder than ever for lower tuition, the Ontario government has released the “Sunshine List.”

The Sunshine List is a list that was brought into existence during the Mike Harris era of premiership, and it outlines the top public sector earners in the province. The list was brought in as a measuring stick for the province, and to allow them to see just how much of the province’s money is going towards those salaries. And hopefully, it would also provide an easier method of seeing which costs can be cut.

The Premier Controversy

But there’s a problem. The list includes 88,412 people. And while that may not seem like a lot in a province with over 12 million people in it, but it’s the growth of the list that has many so concerned. The list has expanded by 11 per cent since last year, and a whopping 30 per cent since 2009. And PC finance critic, Peter Shurman, says that this growth is shedding light on the very problem the list was meant to; and that it’s time for a wage freeze.

“This is a government that wants people in Ontario to believe that they have effectively dealt with salaries in the broader public sector,” says Mr. Shurman. “They haven’t and this is the proof that we haven’t, and this is the reason why we say we need a legislated mandatory wage freeze.”

The biggest problems of course, come from the biggest earners currently taking up the top of the list. Tom Mitchell, president and CEO of Ontario Power Generation was paid $1.7 million last year; and almost 8,000 other employees at OPG were also on the list. The CEO at Hydro One, Laura Formosa, also made the list, earning $1.04 million last year.

Catherine Zahn, the president and chief executive officer at Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, earned $746,321; while Rod Phillips, president and chief executive officer of Ontario Lottery and Gaming, earned $672,989.

These earners are definitely high on the list, and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath thinks it’s a big problem. Especially when you consider that Dalton McGuinty, the former premier of Ontario, made only $209,000 in 2012.

“We shouldn’t see any CEO in any public-sector agency or ministry earning more than twice what the premier makes,” she says.

The Occupier Controversy

But the fact that CEOs are making more than the premier is just one big controversy that stems from the list. That’s the amount of Ontario university leaders that are also topping the list, earning $400,000 or more in both salaries and benefits.

David Naylor, the president of the University of Toronto, received a salary of $388,400.84 in 2012, along with $52,951.48 of tax benefits.

At York University in Toronto, the president and vice-chancellor, Mamdouh Shoukri was paid $478,851.66 in 2012; while Ryerson University president, Sheldon Levy made $445,780.14, as well as $18,239.32 in taxable benefits.

And things aren’t that much different in Ottawa’s schools. Allan Rock, the president of the University of Ottawa, was paid $394,999.92. And the Carleton University president, and their vice-chancellor Roseann O’Reilly Runte both earned $358,474.46, and another $46,095.47 in taxable benefits.

And unfortunately, the list goes on – and on. At the University of Western Ontario, Amit Chakma, president and vice-chancellor earned $479,600.04, in addition to the $41,123.21 of tax benefits. Principal of Queen’s University in Kingston earned $360,800 with taxable benefits of $21,666.90. These were just a few of the 15,000 university staff members that were on the list.

This comes on the heels of Ontario’s tuition cap, which is only 3 per cent, down from the 5 per cent that it was last year. Many, especially those representing student bodies, have said that this cap isn’t enough and that it’s hurting students. The universities on the other hand, are arguing that this cap will eat into their revenues that are already not enough to support school funding and programs; especially with the government pairing back on the amount of benefits and refunds the schools get.

But the argument of lost revenues is a little harder to make when you see just how much of the university’s money is going towards paying those top salaries.

The Adjustment Controversy

Some, mostly those in favour of even higher salaries, argue that there’s one reason the list is so high – today’s $100,000 isn’t the same as it was during the 90s when the list, and the threshold, were conceived. Those proponents say that the $100,000 limit should be increased, and then there wouldn’t be such a glaring controversy.

Premier Kathleen Wynne though, says that $100,000 is still a lot of money to most people; and Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa says that there are no intentions to raise the limit just yet.

And, Frank Ramagnano, Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Union, said that some people appear on the list, when really they have no business being on there. He points to his firefighters, who do make less than $100,000 but were called in on overtime, either to fight deadly fires requiring more manpower, or because other fighters were away.

“When in fact, somebody’s actually doing something to help the city out by sacrificing their summer to come in and make sure that the fire boat is there and available for emergencies,” he says.

He also believes that the list should take inflation into account, which would push the limit from $100,000 to $140,000.

Armine Yalnizyan of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, would also like to see some adjustments made. But she would like to see even more people on the list and thinks a list should also be created to “shine a light on the private sector.”

She also points to the small amount of Ontarians that are actually on the list, and says that there’s no problem with the current threshold.

“In Ontario about six per cent of the population of tax filers have an income over $100,000. So there’s nothing wrong with seeing who’s in that group.”

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