Analysis

Sunshine List gives Doug Ford election year ammunition. Watch how he uses it

The release of Ontario's annual Sunshine List provides one of the best opportunities for the leader of the opposition to rake the government over the coals.

At a news conference, Ford rails against 'fat cats and insiders' but offers no plans for change

Doug Ford arrives for a news conference about the Ontario Sunshine List in the PC caucus room at Queen's Park on Friday (CBC)

The release of Ontario's annual Sunshine List provides one of the best opportunities for the leader of the opposition to rake the government over the coals. 

That opportunity was just handed to Doug Ford, the newly minted leader of the Progressive Conservative party, as the latest list of provincial public sector employees earning $100,000 or more was unveiled on Friday.

Given Ford's "respect the taxpayers" mantra, and given that the election campaign is just around the corner, with the Kathleen Wynne government announcing billions of dollars in new spending ahead of next week's budget, you'd think he'd knock it out of the (Queen's) Park during his news conference on Friday.

You can be the judge of whether he did or not.

Ontario PC party leader Doug Ford reacts to the release of the province's Sunshine List, which indicates who makes $100K or more as a public sector worker. 6:35

Ford read a speech about the Sunshine List for two and a half minutes, and took just five questions, with answers ranging from vague to nearly incomprehensible. 

He began by characterizing the Sunshine List as "the list of Ontario's richest political insiders."  

Police officers and nurses

The 131,741 names on the list include hundreds of school principals and thousands of police officers, as well as GO train engineers, registered nurses and college instructors who don't likely consider themselves political insiders. 

"While the people of Ontario are struggling to pay bills and put food on the table, Kathleen Wynne's friends are getting richer on the backs of the hard-working taxpayer," Ford went on in his prepared remarks.

He didn't name any of Wynne's friends. Perhaps he was referring to Christine Elliott, the defeated PC leadership candidate who's on the Sunshine List, having earned $203,543 last year as the patient ombudsman. Ford called that job "a political appointment from Kathleen Wynne" during the leadership race. 

 
Ontario's new Sunshine List is made up of six volumes, containing the names and salaries of more than 131,000 provincial public sector workers who earned more than $100,000 last year. (Mike Crawley/CBC )

"The insiders and the fat cats are getting big raises, while real folks in Ontario haven't had a real raise in years because of the reckless spending policies of this government," Ford continued. 

Some real folks in Ontario who earn minimum wage will recall that Ford opposes the Liberals' plan to increase it to $15 next year.  

Ford's next target was "a secret list of Hydro One millionaires. There's a secret list out there that Kathleen Wynne decided to squash, that she didn't want any of the taxpayers to know, that there's a whack of millionaires, as people are struggling again to pay their hydro bills. We're going to find out who those people are making millions of dollars."

Ford's team doesn't have to look very hard. Here in Hydro One's annual information filed to the TSX, (starting on page 64) are the names and salaries of its five top executives, all of whom earn $1 million plus.

Hydro One exempt from Sunshine List

The Wynne Liberals privatized Hydro One, exempting it from the Sunshine List disclosure rules. Rob Ferguson of the Toronto Star asked Ford how he would bring Hydro One salaries back on to the list. 

The most precise part of Ford's answer: "We control 48 per cent of the company. So the taxpayers deserve to know. And I'll fight that tooth and nail." 

Questioned at a news conference at Sick Kids, Premier Kathleen Wynne ruled out raising the salary that triggers disclosure on the Sunshine List. 'People in the province have a right to know what folks are earning, and to the vast majority of folks in Ontario $100,00 is still a lot of money,' she said. (CBC)

Next, Cynthia Mulligan of City TV asked Ford if the threshold for being on the Sunshine List should be raised above $100,000.  

His answer, in full: "Yeah, no, I understand that, I was going back to the 2003 or something. This is an example. You have to take inflation into consideration. It goes back to these backroom deals and these secret deals that the taxpayers don't even know that there's endless millionaires on Hydro One. That's the point. It's not the people that are making $100,000. It's the people that are making millions of dollars giving themselves $400,000 raises and not telling and being transparent that there's a whack of millionaires and the government doesn't want anyone to know."

The third questioner asked Ford whether the Sunshine List is a political gift to him that "plays right into his messaging."  Ford's response focused on "all these fat cats that are making millions of dollars ... all these guys making their deals behind closed doors and then keeping it a secret and not telling the taxpayers." 

But what will Ford actually do about these salaries? Will he impose a cap? 

Ford walks away from news conference

"We're going to review it from top to bottom and make sure there's some accountability and transparency," Ford replied.  

Ontario Power Generation executives, a pair of hospital CEOs, and a university president are among the highest paid people on the Sunshine list. (Julie-Anne Lamoureux/Radio-Canada)

As reporters shouted more questions, Ford walked away from the news conference toward the very door that Patrick Brown used to flee the media two months ago, after denying the allegations of sexual impropriety that brought him down.

But, as one reporter's question of "Should salaries be cut?" caught his ear, Ford said just before he exited: "I don't believe anyone should be cut." 

Ford has repeatedly said he can cut costs in the provincial budget without cutting jobs. 

"I don't believe we need to cut any jobs," he said after the PC leadership debate in Ottawa. "I don't believe in taking food off people's table. We're going to find efficiencies and that's how we're going to save the money." 

The Sunshine List is an annual reminder that the bulk of the provincial budget is spent on paying public sector workers. Whether it's doctors and nurses in health care, teachers in education, or nuclear plant workers in the energy sector, people paid by tax dollars provide provincial services.

As the campaign unfolds, Ford will face persistent questions about how he can possibly cut the budget without eliminating the jobs of at least some of the people on the Sunshine List.