Ontario Sunshine List risks becoming 'data dump' as more names added, prof warns

Ontario's Sunshine List risks becoming a "phonebook" for government employees if it's not restructured, expert says.

Premier Kathleen Wynne defends annual list, saying it ensures 'transparency'

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is defending the Sunshine List, saying it ensures 'transparency.' But one academic says the list is getting too big and that it no longer helps hold the government to account. (Christophe Ena/Canadian Press)

Do you remember 1996?

Here's a refresher. Céline Dion's Because You Loved Me was number one on the music charts this week and lots of people bought the CD. The Ford Taurus (at around $20,000) was the most popular car on the road. And the average Toronto house price was less than $200,000 — while GTA mansions sold for what shoebox condos go for now. 

How much have home prices changed? Twelve of these sprawling Markham-area homes were on the market in 1996 for around $400,000. (Toronto Star/CBC Archives)

It's safe to say $100,000 went a lot further than it does now.

Mike Harris's Progressive Conservative government unveiled the Sunshine List that year to put the spotlight on public workers earning six-figures and up. Only 4,576 names appeared on the first list.

Last year, 115,431 people made the list, including bureaucrats, police officers, transit workers and teachers, and in recent years many have argued it should be matched to the rate of inflation. After all, $100,000 then is the equivalent of $147,219 now, according to the Bank of Canada's inflation calculator. 

You won't see many of these on Toronto's streets anymore. However, as it was in 1996, Ontario's Sunshine List still starts at $100,000. (Google)

Premier Kathleen Wynne defended the list Thursday, saying it's a matter of "transparency" and that people have a right to know how much Ontario's top earners are taking home.

But with so many names, the list is losing its power, according to Daniel Cohn, an associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at York University.

"It's going to be a phone book for government employees pretty soon," he told CBC Toronto.

Teachers, emergency workers now on list

While Cohn is on the list, he says the principal at his daughter's elementary school is, too. In previous years, hydro workers who logged massive amounts of overtime getting the lights back on during the ice storm made the list, while emergency workers working demanding hours also wind up there.

Cohn says the government should restructure the list so it focuses on those with powerful enough positions that the public can actually monitor their performance based on public information — think university presidents, government ministers, top bureaucrats and the heads of important agencies.

Right now, he said, "the people who have the real impact on how organizations and how, essentially, the province works, get to hide among the weeds."

"It's a data dump."

The Public Salary Disclosure Act requires organizations that receive public funding from the Province of Ontario to disclose annually the names, positions, salaries and total taxable benefits of employees who make six figures or more in a calendar year.

About the Author

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.


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