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McGuinty, It's Not a Pay Freeze if Everyone Gets a Bonus

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Perhaps it is expecting too much for governments to show shame. Or, perhaps, once a political party assumes the role of government, what to others seems shameful is simply business as normal -- something to invoke pride of achievement.

Maybe that's the sort of pride Ontario's McGuinty government feels when it boasts that its freezing of Public Service salaries has resulted in saving the province $34 million -- even though bonuses to practically all managers has cost the province over $35 million.

That's economizing? No, it's obscenity. It gives government hypocrisy a bad name. According to Canadian Press, 98 per cent of Public Service managers -- 8,700 of 'em -- got bonuses last year of up to 12 per cent while their wages were frozen.

And talking of wages being frozen, some 78,910 government employees were paid salaries of over $100,000 last year. Poor dears, no wonder they need bonuses to keep the caviar flowing.

Opposition Members of the Legislature express horror at the cunning deceitfulness of the Liberal government's pretend austerity concerns. But we all know that if they were the government they'd be doing something similar. It's in their DNA. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath got it right when she was quoted: "Liberals are saying everybody has to be frozen, but some people have to be frozen more than others."

CP quotes Conservative MPP Peter Shurman (Thornhill): "These people (the Liberal government) are incapable of management. They are incompetent and they... bend the truth when they talk about what they're doing and how they are doing it."

Again, he is right -- but what he is saying would also probably apply to a Conservative government, were it in power. Tories say they want a pay freeze on all Public Service workers (including teachers) -- but they aren't the government. Yet. Rather than a pay freeze, surely there should be an end of the practices of performance bonuses? Public Servants are better paid and get better benefits than most in the private sector. Surely, their pay is sufficient without robbing the taxpayer of more?

It can be argued that the Public Service is a sanctuary of mediocrity. Why should anyone -- and certainly not 98 per cent of managers -- get bonuses for simply doing the job they get handsome salaries for doing?

Greg Reed, CEO of eHealth Ontario, showed symptoms of shame by refusing to accept -- for the second year in a row -- a bonus of $81,250 on top of his $329,000 salary. Regardless of whether he is worth his salary, he deserves credit for his gesture. Pity there aren't many like him.

Reed's predecessor in eHealth Ontario was fired in 2009, over untendered contracts of close to $5 million, while drawing a $380,000 annual salary and getting over $300,000 in compensation, with an initial bonus of $114,000. Consultants were paid up to $3,000 a day while, according to the Toronto Star, taxpayers were charged for muffins and tea at meetings.

With a $15 billion provincial deficit, it's obvious the province is in a financial crisis. Pay freezes are a necessity and bonuses justified as "performance pay" are an utter waste and insulting to those who do their job -- despite government claim that bonuses have been reduced by 30 per cent over three years.

That's not economizing; it's hoodwinking the taxpayer.