Sunshine list stokes outrage over omitted salaries

A model poses as a businessman with a dollar sign on his T-shirt. Photo by Getty Images

As temperatures rise, so too does the heat over the salaries paid to certain public-sector workers.

Each spring the Ontario government, in fulfilling its duties under the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, issues its so-called ‘sunshine list,’ detailing all public employees who made more than $100,000 the previous year.

Outrage always follows. But does the legislation go far enough?

Some critics are concerned about a legal loophole that allows the government to shield this kind of information from the public by assigning a project to a private corporation.

“In essence, all the government has to do is delegate a public service to a private corporation and all of the transparency and accountability laws disappear,” wrote media lawyer Alan Shanoff in a recent column for Law Times.

Case in point, Tarion Warranty Corp., a private non-profit corporation that enforces the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act that protects those who buy new homes in the province. Tarion makes money by charging builders home warranty enrollment fees that are often passed on to homeowners. If there is a problem with the construction, Tarion steps in to make sure the builder fixes it.

Because Tarion doesn’t receive any government funding, it’s not subject to any oversight, nor does it have to comply with access-to-information laws. Therefore Tarion doesn’t have to reveal the salaries of its staff, which totaled $24 million in 2012, according to a Toronto Star investigation. 

Tarion also doesn’t disclose to consumers which developers have had complaints filed against them that required enforcement. The provincial NDP have tabled a private member’s bill — bill 60, Tarion accountability and oversight act — that seeks to close the loophole and force companies like Tarion to comply with the sunshine legislation.

“Reforming Tarion to render it more transparent and accountable should be the starting point,” Shanoff added.

“With transparency and accountability, the public can assess Tarion’s accomplishments in administering its public trust, which is to protect new home purchasers. Without such an assessment, the government will never undertake reforms to protect the public.”

Tarion isn’t the only whipping post. Private contractors who are paid by the government also don’t show up on the list.

Warren Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, wants the legislation expanded to include the salaries of executives at big private companies that procure government contracts. 

“The government is pouring tens of billions of dollars a year into the private sector, yet the average person has no simple way to see where that money is going," said Thomas in a statement released this week by OPSEU.

“I look at The Sunshine List, and I think, why don’t we see anyone from construction companies like EllisDon or PCL?” Thomas added. “Why don’t we see any bankers from TD Securities or Scotia Capital? Why don’t we see a single corporate lawyer who’s getting rich from public-private partnerships? Why don’t we see a single executive from an information technology company, when the government is contracting out IT services as fast as it can?”

Not a very sunny outlook.

read Alan Shanoff’s full Law Times article here.
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