Proposed public sector wage hikes for execs are out of line

Posted on February 3, 2017 in Governance Debates – Opinion/Editorials – If proposed raises go through, Ontario Power Generation executives could be making $8 million more than they currently are. It’s time to stop this gravy train.

Somebody is off message in the Wynne government, and we can only hope it’s Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault and not Deputy Premier Deb Matthews.

Last week Matthews wisely said she wanted to send a message of restraint as public sector executives come to the end of a five-year wage freeze.

To do so she sent 24 colleges back to the table to rethink outlandish proposals to increase their presidents’ pay, in some cases by more than 50 per cent. She even threatened that if the colleges didn’t come back with more appropriate proposals the presidents’ salaries would remain frozen.

This week, however, Thibeault is sending a very different message, defending over-the-top proposed pay increases of $8 million for 80 executives at Ontario Power Generation. One proposal could actually see CEO Jeffrey Lyash’s salary more than double to $3.8 million a year. Other executives are eligible for raises right away. So much for restraint.

The rationale? “The safe operation of Ontario’s large nuclear generating stations requires technical experts of the highest standard,” Thibeault’s office said.

Of course that’s true, but there’s no evidence that current salary levels, along with the other benefits of public-sector employment, are insufficient to retain top talent. If the executives in question were going to leave because of salary issues, wouldn’t they have done so during the five-year freeze? The argument that they’ll be poached if they don’t get huge pay increases doesn’t hold water.

There’s a danger in this type of thinking. Thibeault’s rationale for OPG could just as easily apply to hundreds of other public-sector executives who head up our health care networks and transit systems. They’re also up for pay increases after the freeze.

Allowing huge increases for any category would likely set off out-of-control demands across the entire public service, as Matthews rightly recognized.

Metrolinx, for example, has already proposed a possible raise of more than $118,000 for its CEO, Bruce McCuaig, who, if it goes through, would see his salary rise to $479,500 a year.

New Democrat MPP John Vanthof reasonably argues that most Ontarians haven’t seen a real increase in pay in years. “It just isn’t fair for the executives of our public utilities and institutions to be raking in huge salaries, raises and bonuses while so many Ontarians are struggling to put food on the table.”

Matthews had it right on restraint. She should stick to her messaging for all public service executives and make sure Thibeault doesn’t undermine her efforts.

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