The one-day wonder

Here we are again, that time of year when the Sunshine List exposes public sector employees making over $100,000. Outrage, if any, will last a short period of time. One day we figure. 

It’s increasingly easy for citizens to be jealous and envious when such lists are published. At first blush the salaries appear to be big bucks, but with those big bucks come big taxes and a stressful existence.

Some people in higher tax brackets have suggested the 100K club is arcane and due for an increase to 150,000 if it is to be considered as a barometer of public sector pay. Considering the average income is a fraction of 100K, it likely sits well right where it is.

For business owners who prop up the tax base and provide employment for people so they can pay taxes to all levels of government, there could be a bit of cursing at the public sector for making wages far in excess of what most business owners make each year.

Further to that, the government sector salary grids, plus those almighty, publicly traded private conglomerates, put immense pressure on private sector employers. Most small firms now start people off at $11 to $12 an hour, which can be about $5 lower than many municipal and larger company starting rates.

This year’s Sunshine Club is a symbol of impending peril and we cannot help but figure that our message this week will be dismissed by politicians, their public sector employees and sympathizers alike with the same zeal of engineers who once proclaimed their incredible ship, the Titanic, unsinkable.

To us the sunshine list is much like an iceberg, marking a more menacing problem that lurks beneath.

The disparity between public sector and private sector wages continues to escalate at an alarming pace. Factor in lucrative pensions, Cadillac benefits and typically better compensation packages, and we see resentment forming between the two groups. Resentment in the ranks of government employees is also showing up as the top end seems to increase its pay, while cuts are made at the bottom – to people who often are the source of public contact. The question then becomes: Is this formula sustainable? We don’t believe it is.

We have watched with curiosity as the pay scales we were intimately aware of at one point have mushroomed. In an earlier exercise around the time of amalgamation, pay scales for staff and councillors were set with an eye to fairness in the marketplace.

An annual cost-of-living adjustment was to be factored in, which seemed quite fair. Just short of two council terms later we are looking at an entirely different picture, probably caused by another review as neighbouring municipalities undertook their reviews. It is a circle with no end.

Until politicians understand some rudimentary business equations, this banquet of excess will go on. We don’t blame anyone particularly, it just seems to have evolved that there are no brakes being put on spending. Instead of finding better ways to do things, the answer seems to be to hire more staff.

The odd muted voice might suggest some discretion, but absent far too often is that conscience or memory of what was to be.

While on the subject of what was, past politicians were paid in the form of an honorarium. Today, public service seems to have turned into a job, bordering on a career for far too many politicians. Witness the pay for small town mayors with populations of 10 to 15,000 people rivalling the salary of the mayor in the City of Guelph, nearly 10 times their size. How about their benefits and pension? It defies the past.

Incredibly, suggestions by the province that wages be frozen were quickly dismissed by most mayors in this county. Whether that is inter-governmental politics or a brave face for the staff, surely there are hopes of rationalizing the workforce and labour costs as time goes on.

Despite a deserved rise in blood pressure, this pay issue, too, will pass. How about them Blue Jays?