There are at least 2,369 people making more than $100,000 working for the provincial government, and the numbers are growing fast.
The names of those people were supposed to be made public on a so-called “Sunshine List” by the end of the month, according to an action plan drafted by the previous Tory government.
But since the Liberals won the November provincial election — campaigning on rhetoric about openness and transparency — it’s not clear whether the provincial government will reveal the names and salaries of the government’s top earners at all.
The idea of a sunshine list is already in practice in Ontario and Alberta. In Ontario, for example, since 1996 the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act has required the government to publish a list of the names, positions, salaries and total taxable benefits for anyone paid more than $100,000 in public funds.
During the provincial government’s open-government kick over the past couple of years, it was an idea that garnered plenty of discussion, and in the draft Open Government Action Plan published in September, then-minister Steve Kent committed to setting up a sunshine list by the beginning of April 2016.
To get a sense of how many people would appear on the sunshine list, The Telegram filed access to information requests to large public bodies and asked for information about how many people earn more than $100,000.
As of Friday, the newspaper received responses from the core civil service, the four regional health authorities, the English School District, the College of the North Atlantic, Nalcor Energy and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.
A request for information from Memorial University was delayed, and is due later this month.
Based on the data supplied to The Telegram, there’s been huge growth in those top earners over the past decade.
In 2005, at least 397 people made six-figures working for the government departments and agencies; there’s been a sixfold increase over the past 10 years.
Today, at least 2,369 people are above the $100,000 mark.
Whereas in 2005, only one employee in all of the core civil service made more than $200,000, today there are 22 people making that much money in the Department of Justice and Public Safety alone.
At Nalcor Energy, more than one-third of all employees are paid more than $100,000. At the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary the ratio is even higher; 36 per cent of all employees took home more than $100,000 in 2015.
In 2013, the most recent year available from Statistics Canada, if you earn more than $100,000, that puts you in the top 7.6 per cent of income earners.
The base salary for a member of the House of Assembly is $95,357.
Siobhan Coady, minister responsible for public engagement, said the new Liberal administration is absolutely, unequivocally committed to the principle of transparent government.
When it comes to the sunshine list, though, it’s murky.
“You want me to give you a date as to when we can give you a sunshine list — I can't do that today,” Coady said.
“We haven’t had a chance to ensure that that is the proper and right thing to do. We are looking at, and we are completely supportive of, open government.”
She said the government is still ruminating over the draft Open Government Action Plan and considering public feedback received through consultation, and through the Government Renewal Initiative budget process.
But Tory MHA Steve Kent, who was the minister responsible for this area before the election, said the government is ducking and dodging.
“As minister, I signed off on a proposed Open Government Action Plan that included a sunshine list,” Kent said. “It was in final form ready for cabinet review when I left the office. I had signed off on a final version of the Open Government Action Plan, and minister Coady would know that.”
Kent said it looks like the Liberals talk a good game on transparency, but they’re not actually doing much.
“We have an Open Government Action Plan that should be brought to life in the weeks and months ahead, but everything related to open government and all other Office of Public Engagement initiatives are at a standstill because of this 15-month roadshow that minister (Cathy) Bennett and minister Coady are engaged in,” he said.
“It doesn’t require a lot of resources. From the perspective of the overall Open Government Initiative, it’s relatively low-hanging fruit, and I’m disappointed that the new government is backing away from some of those initiatives that are really simple steps towards making government more open.”
Coady acknowledged open government hasn’t been her top priority; she’s been mostly focused on the budget.
But she said it’s something she’s going to work on soon.
“I haven’t placed a timeline on when we’re going to see something finalized, to be frank, because we’re focused today, quite frankly, on the Government Renewal Initiative and the budget,” Coady said.
“It won’t languish for months or years. I can absolutely guarantee you that.”