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Photo: bgilliard/Flickr

Last week's publication of the so-called "sunshine" list of 88,412 Ontario public sector workers earning more than $100,000 per year elicited lots of howls of outrage in terms of online commentary.

It should not be forgotten that the whole point of the annual list -- which dates back to the Harris days -- is to yank on the chain of public opinion.

High public sector salaries are put forward for detailed scrutiny, with no basis for comparisons to private sector compensation.

While a $100,000-plus income is certainly well above average, it should not be forgotten that more than 1 in 20 Ontario residents (5.5 per cent) exceed that threshold. It is not unreasonable that school principals, senior public service managers, senior academics and, yes, even skilled trades workers putting in a lot of overtime, should make it into the top 5 per cent.

The great majority of those at the top of the income ladder work in the private sector, and private sector top salaries are generally much higher than in the public sector.

The latest data we have on earnings by detailed occupation are from the 2005 Census. At that time, senior managers in government ($80,790) and in health, education, social and community services ($77,184) earned FAR less per year than the average of $131,808 for all senior managers, rising to as high as an average of $162,376 for senior managers in finance, construction and business services and $160,947 for senior managers in goods production, utilities, transportation and construction.

In my view, top salaries for administrators in the public sector -- from CEOs of crown corporations, to university presidents and chief administrators of hospitals, have indeed climbed far too high in relation to average earnings.

But that is mainly because excessive increases have been justified by comparisons to truly excessive private sector norms as borne out by the soaring compensation packages of corporate CEOs.

I for one am going to contain my outrage until we get a Bay Street sunshine list for purposes of comparison.

Photo: bgilliard/Flickr

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