By Ian Pattison
Ontario’s Sunshine List of highly-paid public employees is always a fun read. Taxpayers get to see how much the people they like to criticize (or thank in some instances) get paid.
At the City of Thunder Bay, that list grew from 452 employees paid about $55 million in 2020 to 559 people earning a total of $71 million this year. And that doesn’t count health care, education and all those who work for senior governments.
The list was instituted in 1996 by former Conservative premier Mike Harris as part of his Common Sense Revolution against ‘big government.’ The idea was to “name and shame well-paid public servants to put them in their place, feeding the fiction that they were wildly overpaid compared to the allegedly lean and mean private sector,” wrote Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn this week.
Cohn argues that adjusted for inflation, the benchmark should be updated to $155,960 in today’s dollars. Which reduces the City of Thunder Bay’s sunshine list to 42. There now, don’t you feel better?
In all there are 92 city employees earning between $100,000 and $110,000 while 402 individuals make $110,000 to $150,000 and 59 earn between $150,000 and $200,000. The vast majority of these work for fire, police and emergency medical services.
Four employees are paid $200,000 to $250,000: Deputy Police Chief Ryan Hughes ($242,244.25), police Sgt. Justin Dubuc ($236,071.85), police Superintendent Daniel Taddeo ($209,518 and Fire Chief Greg Hankkio, $200,434.87).
Just two city employees’ salaries top that. Police Chief Sylvie Hauth is paid $265,822.89 while City Manager Norm Gale gets $265,759.82.
Compare that to some of the other people who are paid to manage Thunder Bay’s 2,800 employees. Transit manager Brad Loroff makes $132,875; Leslie McEachern, the city planner earns $130,544; Dawne Latta, city solicitor, is paid $123,325 and Doug Vincent in charge of licensing and enforcement makes $117,121.
Mayor Bill Mauro is paid $105,268 -- plus a $575 raise after council authorized an increase it had foregone last year. Derek West, city police branch commander, is paid $192,758.83, an increase of roughly $18,800 from a year earlier.
What’s the lesson here? Primarily, it pays to have a good union. As columnist Heather Mallick wrote this week, “Why are police officers paid so much for a job that doesn’t require a university degree and where no one ever gets fired?” Thunder Bay firefighters’ contract battles and rich victories must still give city negotiators nightmares while the number of Ontario teachers on the list doubled this year to nearly 30,000.
What’s more, most public servants enjoy defined benefit pensions which guarantee the amount to be paid on retirement. Most people in the private sector lucky enough to still have a pension -- or a job -- have been converted to defined contribution plans which depend on the vagaries of the market. If you’re in that boat, your RRSP statements tell the tale.
Some say that it’s unfair to publish the salaries of public servants who make a lot of money. What’s unfair is people whose careers are stalled by Covid, who are desperate to make ends meet amid cutbacks and layoffs, who are clinging to fading hope that their small businesses can make it to the end of this pandemic, to have to read about the fine advantages of others -- and help to pay for them.
INEQUITIES and shortfalls built into “the system” are made infinitely worse by Covid. They might have been fully addressed in this week’s Ontario budget but alas, it was not to be.
Many Ontarians with secure employment take paid sick leave for granted. There have been many calls to grant that privilege to people who should stay home with Covid symptoms or who are in line for a vaccine shot. The budget missed that opportunity and had nothing to say about similar calls for a $15 minimum wage. The government of Doug Ford (who earns $208,974) will have nothing to do with the idea that corporate Canada stoutly opposes.
Ontarians are urged to support small business, especially during the pandemic, and the budget aims to do double grants to that sector. But thousands of small businesses remain ineligible for some reason.
The budget contains money to hire more staff at long-term care homes so that the minimum four hours of care that residents should receive will finally occur. That’s been widely recommended, and ignored, for years. By this time last year there had already been 254 Covid outbreaks at Ontario’s 626 long-term care facilities resulting in 1,308 resident deaths.
Here in Thunder Bay there have been 47 Covid deaths so far during the pandemic, many of them in long-term care settings. Sixteen people have died in just the past three weeks among 1,000 new cases, yet the Ford government inexplicably ignores pleadings from MPPs and city council to declare the district a hot spot. The premier remains fixated on the vote-rich GTA which got hot-spot status and extra attention starting last October.
The Thunder Bay district case count appears to be levelling off though there are 19 people with Covid in hospital, including four in intensive care. A fourth died on Wednesday. Incidentally, March 28 is the one-year anniversary of the city’s first case.
Frustration within the health care system extends beyond this lack of attention to Thunder Bay’s situation. A march by a large number of people who oppose restrictions on public activity to stem Covid’s tide prompted Dr. Zaki Ahmed, regional hospital chief of staff, to exclaim on Twitter: “Are you serious? After spending the night trying to save people with COVID-19 from dying, I read this … (angry face emoji).”
Ahmed spoke for the vast majority of people who do their part as asked and view with alarm those who ignore rules and react badly when asked to do so. We trust the hospital board feels the same way and will support Ahmed’s frank assessment as well as his Friday call that primary care physicians be authorized to give vaccinations.
Lockdowns are a pain. They hurt business, kill jobs, challenge mental health and frustrate everyone. But they work when applied early and long enough to force the virus to peter out. No amount of conspiracy theorizing will change that fact.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.