Sunshine List 2021

The Ontario government has released The Sunshine List. It is a publically-avaialable list which lists the names, positions, and locations of any government employee earning over $100K per year, and was started in 1995 by the Mike Harris government as a way of naming and shaming those who commit the sin of earning above six figures. The article that appeared in today’s Toronto Star had a picture of an elementary school teacher and a classroom of young children, just below the headline, to suggest the targets of this list.

However, the list targets all 240,000 or so full-time government employees who get a paycheck from Queens Park, regardless of the sector of government invloved, such as Public Works, Healthcare, the ministries, OPG and the LCBO. And that just scratches the surface.

The 26 top wage earners working for school boards are those earning more than $250K. All of these people are school board directors, and the occasional associate director. When compared against the other sectors of government, the education sector is still the lowest-paid as they always have been. So it is no surprise that the sector called “School Boards”, according to the Sunshine List, are have the lowest average salary, for those earning above 100K.

The reality of such perceived largesse is twfold: the list which started in 1996 has become less impressive in its impact than it had been back then. $100K today has the same buying power as a salary of $69,769.70 back in 1996.

There is also taxation, which eats up $35,000 of your $100K gross earnings. The money you earn is not what you take home. And in 1996 dollars, the take-home pay of $65K can buy you what $45K used to back then. You can still live more or less comfortably and relatively debt-free on that salary, but it is far from lavish, especially if you live in the Greater Toronto Area because you won’t be able to afford a house or even a condo. An earner taking in $70,000 back in 1996 could buy a home in the GTA. Nowadays, an employee in the GTA earning $100,000 is lucky if they can find a two bedroom apartment that doesn’t break their bank account, especially if they are raising families.

Because of this, the magic number of $100,000 is outdated and much less meaningful than it used to be. It was a lot of money in 1996, but nowadays is barely above a living salary for a family of 4. It only looks big because of all the zeroes after the 1. To match the buying power of $100,000 in 1995, you would need to earn about $160,000 today.

The other aspect of this, is that the 85% of earners on the Sunshine List are earning between $100,000 and $110,000. 70% of earners on the Sunshine List are earning less than $105,000. That means that the per centage of earners just between $105K and $110K is barely 15% of the distribution. And as you go up in salary, the number of earners in each successive bracket falls like a rock. Also, keep in mind that the list isn’t giving you who is earning what, below $100,000. But because it takes a school teacher 10 years to get to that level, it is a safe bet that most Ontario government employees earn well below $100K, even in today’s dollars.

If we use $160,000 as the new cutoff (based on the same 1996 standard, adjusted for inflation), there are exactly 765 earners in Ontario working for school boards earning that either 160K or more, none of whom are teachers. That level of salary is generally earned by school board superintendents and the occasional principal. The 765 education sector earners is far fewer than the 80,434 sunshine earners working for school boards. There are many calls to update this list to take into account the change in standard of living of Sunshine earners, but as you can see number less than 1%, the list would not have nearly the same impact, nor cause anywhere near the same outcry.

And I have to say, why the outcry? We live in a world where Amazon workers are fired for being in the bathroom too long, thereby being a drain on Bezos’s ambition to buy himself another rocket. We live in a world where the average CEO earns more than 300 times more than the average worker under him. Government workers got where they were because of union activity, and out of the recognition that the boss wasn’t going to be nice one day and give us a living wage. The ones who don’t form unions get the shit jobs and shitty lives they duly fought for.

I realize I am being sardonic, but I am also suggesting that fighting for a living wage and adequate benefits is not easy, and is always a struggle, and bosses are hired to care more about profits than whether your skill set matches what earnings you deserve, whether you are taking home a living wage, or even your mental or physical health. Where is the outrage at the CEOs of private companies who earn so much off the backs of their employees? Or even at private companies who form government “partnerships” which benefit off the largesse of the taxpayers? These latter people are invisible on the Sunshine List.

People lose their minds when a government employee earns a living wage, but don’t seem to have a problem when a CEO reports a salary at a shareholders’ meeting in the billions of dollars, don’t know what to do with all that money, and buy themselves a rocket. Meanwhile their employees are so stressed they are unable to hold down a warehouse job for longer than a year or so, lest they be sacked for the crime of taking a bathroom break in an actual bathroom rather than peeing in a bottle like a good employee. This is what happens when you don’t fight for better working conditions.

To the left is a summary of salaries above 100K paid to all employees in the School Board sector of government. This encompasses all managers, custodial staff, secretaries, teachers, psychologists, other specialists, and board office employees right up to the director. Nearly everyone earns below 110K, with the number of earners in each successive bracket falling precipitously as you go up in salary level. With the full list sorted in order of salary, it is possible to determine the median salary for a School Board Sunshine List employee (remember, not all government employees) as being $103,129.16 or, in 1996 dollars, $65,411.73, using data provided by the Toronto Star to do the conversion.

Below is a breakdown by government sector.