09/20/2012 04:21 EDT | Updated 11/20/2012 05:12 EST

Ont. Liberals move to freeze wages for public-service execs

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan says it's time for public-sector executives to take a pay freeze, just as many frontline workers have.

"We have asked teachers, doctors and some government employees to accept pay freezes; MPPs have frozen our salaries for five years," Duncan told reporters during a Thursday afternoon news conference.

"It seems fair to ask our executives to lead by example and accept a freeze."

He also announced the government’s intent to limit the compensation that government managers can be awarded, as well as the introduction of a pay freeze that would affect workers in the broader public sector.

For two years, the government wants to freeze the earnings of anyone working in the Ontario Public Service, provincial agencies and the broader public sector who is eligible for performance pay on top of their regular salary.

"No one will earn more than they did last year," said Duncan.

"This means that it is possible for individuals to earn less money if they fail to perform."

Additionally, the government wants to change the performance-pay initiatives that were paid out to 98 per cent of eligible managers in the Ontario Public Service last year.

"No manager in the Ontario Public Service would earn more in 2012 than they did in 2011," said Duncan.

"For the 8,800 OPS managers, there will be no more increases. Their T4s will be capped, meaning that they can receive less."

The government intends for these OPS managers to face a three-year pay freeze.

Call to cap executive salaries

The governing Liberals also want to cap the salaries of top public-sector executives at $418,000, which is twice the annual salary of Premier Dalton McGuinty.

"This cap will be permanent and it will work to bring some of the overly generous compensation packages back to reality," Duncan said.

However, the cap will not pare back the salaries of some 150 executives whose annual income currently exceeds that threshold.

The cap will apply to all fields across the public sector except those in which “a unique labour market” demands a higher salary to attract needed executives.

The finance minister said the government will be bringing similar measures forward in the days ahead to those that were announced Thursday.

The government cannot say how many people in the broader public sector will be affected by the legislation, or how much it will save by freezing their pay, but says freezing the pay of civil service managers will save about $12 million a year.

"Dollar-wise these are modest," admitted Duncan. "Symbolically they're important."

Proposed measures don’t go far enough: critics

Progressive Conservative finance critic Peter Shurman said the government’s proposed pay freeze doesn’t do enough to address Ontario’s problems with its balance sheet.

"If the economic scenario in Ontario was a beach, what the minister has done is he’s picked a single grain of sand," he told reporters after the finance minister’s press conference.

"This demonstrates conclusively that these people are absolutely out of touch, they have absolutely no idea what’s going on."

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said she felt the government “could have gone further,” particularly when it comes to making top earners share in the sacrifices that are being demanded of other public-sector workers.

"I’m not sure how fair it is. I’m going to have to take a look at the details once the government tables legislation," Horwath told reporters at Queen’s Park on Thursday afternoon.

Neither the NDP leader, not the Opposition finance critic offered any definitive statement about whether their respective parties would support the expected legislation the government will bring forward on these issues.

The Progressive Conservatives have been demanding a legislated wage freeze for the public sector, and supported the minority government's bill imposing a new deal on teachers.

However, that controversy helped the New Democrats take the Kitchener-Waterloo riding from the Tories in a byelection this month, which also prevented the Liberals from getting their majority.