Shining you on: Alison Redford calls for a little selective sunshine on civil service salaries

The scene in February 2014: CBC investigative journalist Charles Rusnell pores through a list of senior Alberta civil service salaries as horrified deputy ministers and university professors look on. Actual Alberta public employees may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Associate Minister of Accountability, Transparency and Transformation Don Scott, left, with some guy his party would just as soon you forgot about. (Image grabbed from the Internet from country933.com.) I wonder what the yellow gloves are for?

Have the calls Alberta’s Progressive Conservative MLAs are getting from modestly paid unionized civil servants, furious about having their salaries frozen by unconstitutional legislation and their pensions diminished, rattled the Redford Government?

PC MLAs should be rattled – seeing as a lot of those modestly paid low- and mid-level public employees live in ridings that Ms. Redford’s PC Party hung onto by extremely narrow margins in the face of the Wildrose Party tide in the April 2012 general election.

So the announcement yesterday by Don Scott, Alberta’s “associate minister of accountability, transparency and transformation,” that the Redford Government has plans to shine a little highly selective sunshine on senior public service salaries suggests they may indeed be worried.

At any rate, an Alberta government news release stating “compensation, including salary, benefit and severance amounts for government employees with base salaries above $100,000 will now be publicly disclosed,” sounds an awful lot like an effort to make a dubious case to the public that province’s public service is too fat and sassy and needs to be brought down a notch or two.

It just might work with some members of the public, the large and inattentive cohort of citizens who can’t tell the difference between civil service union members and their well-paid managers – the latter being the people who will make up the bulk of the names on the new Mike-Harris-inspired “sunshine list” that’s supposed to be published online at the end of January.

But will publication of the list win Ms. Redford any votes in 2016?

Don’t count on that. The people most likely to take the bait offered in what’s being billed the “public service compensation disclosure policy” are the same ones who have already decided to vote Wildrose, or who can’t be bothered getting out to vote at all.

On the other hand, you can count on civil service managers to be outraged by what they are certain to see as an invasion of their personal privacy.

It’s said here these traditional Tory voters are now much more likely to vote against Ms. Redford’s party, as are the rank-and-file government employees they supervise, who for their part are unhappy about the PCs imposition of a legislated freeze on their wages and cuts to their pension plans.

I ask you, how much would you like it if your snoopy right-wing brother-in-law could find out that you were making $100,000.01 in base salary on a government website accessible to everyone in the world? Well, if you’re a civil service manager in Alberta, he’ll be able to just that, using your name, in just 43 days!

Just how this is going to work with Alberta’s privacy legislation is unclear – and not surprisingly largely unexplored in yesterday’s news release.

On the face if it, Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act would seem to prohibit the release of such employee information without consent, at least unless “it is reasonable to disclose the information for the particular purpose for which it is being disclosed.” That law also suggests employees are owed “reasonable notice.”

What do you want to bet some affected government employees won’t think this is reasonable, and that 40 days and 40 nights doesn’t constitute reasonable notice – even if the government can dredge up some regulation somewhere to override those provisions of the act.

Oh well, contradicting its own legislation is nothing new for the Redford Government – just ask the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

There’s certainly a case to be made such information does belong in the public domain. And if voters are paying attention – which the premier’s Queen’s Park-trained political staff clearly hopes they are not – the information won’t do much to make the case Alberta’s civil service is overindulged.

After all, the vast majority of Alberta civil servants don’t make anything like $100,000 in base salary – and if you don’t believe me, just look up AUPE’s contract with the government on the union’s website and see for yourself how modestly paid its members are.

If Ontario is any guide, only about 6 per cent of all tax filers make more than $100,000.

As Armine Yalnizyan of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives told the CBC last spring when Ontario published its annual list, maybe it’s time to expand the list to “shine a light on the private sector.”

It’s a thought – and a potential new group for Ms. Redford’s political brain trust to alienate.

Meanwhile, the government did get the endorsement of the Alberta director of the six-member Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which its communications brainiacs obviously chalk up as a plus, seeing as they quoted it in their press release.

And the announcement probably distracted voters from the fact the former Tory MLA from Wood Buffalo-Fort McMurray pleaded guilty the day before to a reduced charge in Minnesota after being swept up last summer in a “john sweep” of the seedy underside of St. Paul, the Sin City of the Gopher State.

Back here in the Gopher Province, look for the phone company to do a land-office trade in new unlisted numbers.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

5 Comments on "Shining you on: Alison Redford calls for a little selective sunshine on civil service salaries"

  1. RJ says:

    LOL…I’m more concered about my name not showing up on that list given how long I’ve been a public servant…all my friends and family in the private sector are going to be having a field day with that. But on the bright side, they will probably start buying all the beer for the hocky games now.

  2. paul C says:

    Once again David, great insight and comments. I am not worried either about my name appearing on this list . Will be interesting to see the Senior Deputy Ministers salaries and Benefits. Many make more than the premier!

  3. Don Sampson says:

    A sunshine list is a good idea. Normally the employer pays your wages and is privy to how much you are making. In this case the general pubic is the employer and there is no good reason why he or she should not be apprised of the wages of upper end civil servants. I personally would not mind having full disclosure for every civil servant.

    • Don: As stated in the piece, I don’t fundamentally disagree with you. You say you wouldn’t mind having full disclosure for every civil servant. Just to clarify, you do, in effect, have that already for all unionized civil servants through the medium of their collective agreement, which tells you everything you want to know except how much overtime each individual worked. Overtime, is, of course, an interesting question, because when the civil service fails to adequately staff essential jobs, either they have to pay overtime to do the work, let the supposedly “essential” work go undone, or hire outside contractors. In the case of jail guards, I believe the government pays the overtime. In the case of environmental and game enforcement, they let the work go undone and allow long-term damage to take place to our collectively owned resource. The public has no opportunity to comment. As for outside contractors, using your logic, since they too work for taxpayers, their pay and contracts should be transparent as well. Why not?

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