Taxpayers have a right to know where their tax dollars are spent. While the province is now a leader in Canada on expense disclosure for politicians and senior staff, Alberta lags far behind many other provinces in another area.
Alberta is one of the only provinces in Canada without a “sunshine list” of government employees. A “sunshine list” provides taxpayers with a breakdown of the salaries, benefits and pensions of government employees over a certain income level.
This plays a vital accountability role in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
There are currently more than 29,000 full-time bureaucrats in the core public service (excluding the education and health care systems) making $3 billion in wages, salaries and benefits. This means that the average bureaucrat in Alberta costs taxpayers $102,000 a year.
Ontario’s sunshine list law requires the public disclosure of the names and salaries of those government employees who earn over $100,000.
While knowing that the average bureaucrat in Alberta costs taxpayers a whopping $102,000 per year might make for an interesting fact, it does little in the way of accountability.
A year ago, an Albertan wanting to know how much his or her MLA currently made had to rely on calculations by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the media, based on a complicated pay grid. To their credit, the government has since then made significant improvements in transparency surrounding MLA pay.
Yet, the vast majority of the bureaucracy remains a black hole of transparency. Albertans have no way of knowing what the tens of thousands of government employees are making.
In Ontario for example, the sunshine list showed a Toronto Police cadet earning more than $100,000 – while in training. Several Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) toll booth attendees made this list, as did more than 1,400 TTC employees. No offense to bus drivers, but that’s a lot.
The list also showed many government employees making more than $500,000 and two government employees making more than $1 million annually.
Thanks to its sunshine list, British Columbians know that former BC Ferries CEO David Hahn made more than $1 million in addition to his pension. Hahn is generally considered as having been a disaster for BC Ferries, taking it from a $50 million annual surplus, to a $20 million deficit.
More importantly, sunshine lists also allow taxpayers to track general trends in government employee compensation. In Ontario for example, the number of employees making more than $100,000 a year increased to 88,412, or 11 per cent in just the past year. Since 2009, the list has grown by 39 per cent. This might strike some as a sure sign that upper management and toll-booth attendants might be getting a little too numerous.
On the other side of the coin, BC’s sunshine list showed that places like the City of Penticton were getting payroll costs under control.
For better, and for worse, a similar weathervane is badly needed in Alberta. With payroll costs making up a significant portion of government spending, we can’t continue to keep information on the highest paid in the dark. It’s time to let the sun shine in.