Searching for true transparency

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Every year when the Sunshine List comes out, it causes a stir in the community, with many people outraged at how many people who are paid with our tax dollars make in excess of $100,000.

There are also many people who question why the list is still published 23 years after it was first enacted, with no consideration for adjusting to the rate of inflation.

By those standards, the list would only publish people with salaries of $151,929 and over.

That if definitely a valid point.

In a community like Chatham-Kent, however, where the average combined family income is almost half that amount, many people can only dream about making that kind of income. These are the same people who are paying taxes for those high wages.

The Sunshine List started as a way to force the government to be accountable for the wages it paid its employees using taxpayer dollars – the idea of transparency in government. Has it worked? That’s a good question.

Or has it just made us angry that the government is paying someone like the CEO of Ontario Power Generation more than $1.5 million dollars in annual salary? You can hear the collective blood pressure rising when people read that detail.

While Premier Kathleen Wynne considers the Sunshine List relevant and important to know what public sector employees are paid, is the list really a gold standard for transparency?

When you attempt to pore over the provincial government list online, it’s generally a mess. In the past, it was easier to track down who was making what in your community. Some public sector organizations, such as the municipality, are easy to search.

But in other cases, you have to know what, or who, you are looking for. For example, if you want to see what the local judges made last year in salary, you had better know their names, as there are 625 under the judiciary listing. Crown attorneys are lumped in “Government of Ontario – Ministries.” Pull up that list, and something entirely different comes up.

That’s not remotely transparency.

True transparency in government would be not burying unwanted legislation in an omnibus bill or giving information to the public without them having to file Freedom of Information requests to get details of spending we should be entitled to.

The people on the list probably don’t enjoy having everyone know exactly how much they make, but the reasons the list exists in the first place hasn’t gone away.

Keeping our government accountable for how they spend our tax dollars will always be a good idea, but perhaps adjusting the rate upwards after 23 years is an idea worth exploring.

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