Thursday, April 01, 2010

The 100K Club

For those of you who do not live in Ontario, the province of Ontario is required by law to post the names and salaries of any provincial employee who earns more then $100 000 a year. Every April, the list is released and the Toronto Sun gets all hot and bothered with righteous indignation because. . . well because that's what the Sun always does. It's just another part of Mike Harris' dubious legacy that Ontarians have to live with, like the 407 and megacities.

The actual premise of the 100k club isn't that bad. It's nice to get an idea of where the money goes. Ostensibly, it should help to keep people accountable for their use of public money. That's all well and good. Unfortunately, the list is seriously flawed for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that the threshold is too low nowadays, making the list too large. I know that 100k is a lot of money but it's not as large a sum as it was in 1996 when the list was created. Where the list was once the domain of managers and bosses, you now have large numbers of the workers winding up on the list because of overtime payments. If the threshold was adjusted each year for inflation, you would have a much smaller list.

A smaller list would be more useful. Right now, the list has grown large enough that it gets tuned out. Sure, the comments section of the newspapers will be overflowing for a few days with people venting about the waste. Soon enough, though, it will all die down for another year. A smaller list would serve to highlight the worst offenders, making it harder for them to hide amongst the masses.

The other reason why the list is ineffective is that there is no context. You have the name, the organization, the position and the salary. That's it. No explanation of why the person earns what they do or what they do to earn it. No differentiation between those who crack 100k by working lots of overtime and those whose base salary is already above 100k.

It's easy to gasp about the nurse or the TTC ticket collector who makes 125k a year when all you have is a number. If we were told how many hours that person worked in a year to earn that sort of money, I'm sure it would seem a little less excessive. We would then have to look at the institution and not the individual to find out why there was that much overtime available in the first place. More than likely, we would find out one of two things. First, that it's cheaper to pay the overtime than it is to hire another person. Second, that some positions are short-staffed because of shortages of skilled employees. This means that the ones with the skills and the willingness to work long hours can earn big money.

In the case of people whose salaries are already above $100 000, I'm sure that most of the people are earning a fair salary for their skills and expertise. With the way the list is set up, however, we have no way of understanding that. There's just page after page of people earning lots of money with no explanation of why they earn that much. It's hard to get a balanced understanding of the issue when we are offered the bare minimum of information.

I'm not opposed to the list. Someday I'd like to be on it. I just think that it needs a revamp if it is to be of use to anyone other than newspaper headline writers.

If you want to check the list out for yourself, go here :