Straight Talk
CHRISTINA BLIZZARD - No surprise public sector salaries out of control

New Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks at a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday Feb. 19, 2013. The throne speech focuses on creating jobs through the development of energy conservation technology, although it retains the Liberal government’s goal to end the use of coal-fired electricity.

Credits: Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency

CHRISTINA BLIZZARD | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO – The Fraser Institute report on public sector salaries released Wednesday comes as a big surprise to absolutely no one -- unless you're a private sector worker who's been too busy trying to stay employed to study the minutia of the Sunshine List.

Anyone who's regularly pored over the thousands of pages of people who make more than $100,000 on the public dime understands that pay and perks in the public sector are out of control.

The report says public sector workers earn on average 13.9% more in wages than their private sector counterparts. They retire 1.3 years earlier and 77% were covered by a pension plan, usually a cushy one with defined benefits.

And while the report lumps together all levels of government -- municipal, federal and provincial -- this province has certainly heaped its share of sugar onto the sweet deals the public sector enjoy.

Worse, they didn't respond to the economic downturn in 2008 by holding the line on pay.

They kept merrily giving massive pay hikes.

The OPP, for example, are included in the two-year freeze -- but in the third year of the contract they'll get a whopping 8.5% pay hike.

In 2004, a top rate OPP constable made $94,431. By 2011, that figure had soared to $117,495.

The problem is that this becomes the model for cops across the province -- and small towns can't afford the staggering bill they're getting for policing.

Economist Don Drummond warned the government that broader public sector hiring was out of control.

He didn't recommend an across-the-board freeze, but did point out that over the past 11 years -- mostly under the McGuinty government -- we've had runaway hiring.

"Over the period from 2000 to 2011, Ontario public sector employment in health care and social services increased by 39% and in education by 34%," Drummond said in his report last spring.

"By 2011, Ontario (broader public sector) employment accounted for just over 17% of total employment in Ontario," he wrote.

Look at the McGuinty government's sorry record.

They negotiated a secret deal with OPSEU that gave them 1.75% in 2009, 2% in 2010, 2% in 2011 year -- and 3% in 2012. Then they tried to keep the extra 1% secret.

Before Bill 115 froze teacher salaries, in 2009 -- the last round of salary negotiations -- the province's teachers got a 10.4% pay hike over four years -- bringing the maximum salary to $92,700 after four years -- plus enhanced benefits -- at a time when the rest of us were just glad to have a job.

And the Sunshine List just kept growing.

When the Liberals took office in 2003, 20,249 people were on that list. By 2011 that number has almost quadrupled -- to 78,901 people.

That's unsustainable.

The ticking time bomb is the pension bill these fat cats are racking up.

Pension watchdog Bill Tufts tracks the lucrative public sector pensions.

In a recent article, he noted that all those workers making more than $100,000 will be entitled to a defined benefit pension of at least $70,000 since public-sector workers typically receive a pension valued at 70% of final salary.

"Current data show that, for a person retiring today at age 55, their life expectancy is now 84. This means the numerous Sunshine List employees will each collect a pension of at least $2 million," said Tufts.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday her government is holding the line.

"We have been clear that constraints needed to be put in place on public sector wages and compensation packages. That's why we've been working with our public sector partners and we have settled for 0% increases," she said.

Sure, they're holding the line -- now.

If only they hadn't given away the store in the first place.

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