Salaries ranges for Public Sector Appointees vary widely
Pay for Ontario board chairs all over the map
JONATHAN JENKINS | QMI AGENCY
TORONTO -- To say Philip Olsson comes cheap to Ontario taxpayers is bit of an understatement.
The chair of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario pulled down $17,850 in 2011, while sitting atop an agency with 3,500 employees, $4.5 billion in sales and that delivered a $1.55 billion profit to taxpayers -- up nearly 10% from the previous year.
Or how about Neil Stuart? The health admin PhD, who chairs Cancer Care Ontario and its nearly $700 million budget, reported a mere $112 in expense claims for 2010 -- his only pay in the job.
It's a far cry from the Ontario's best paid board chair, the recently re-appointed Howard Wetston at the Ontario Securities Commission. His total pay was more than $630,000 in 2011.
That's nowhere near the $102,000 the part-time chair of the Ontario Film Review Board made in 2011 but it's still five times what Olsson was paid to run a significantly larger operation.
The staggering range of compensation for board chairs across Ontario's 630 agencies, boards and commissions (ABCs) is every bit as bewildering as the bodies themselves, which advise, regulate, adjudicate or administer everything from accessibility standards to the McMichael Art Gallery to workplace insurance appeals.
The list includes predictable bodies such as hospital boards, university boards of governors, local health integration networks and the boards of such powerful and high-profile bodies as Hydro One Inc., Ontario Power Generation, the Ontario Energy Board, eHealth Ontario and the Ontario Parole Board.
But it also includes such obscure entities as the Ortech Corp. -- which works to move research and development from the lab to the marketplace -- the Board of Funeral Services and also the Soldiers Aid Commission, established in 1915.
Given the vast disparity of services provided and the work involved, it's not surprising the pay board chairs receive also varies widely.
But even people involved in the appointment process say it's baffling -- and open to abuse.
"It looks like there's a lot of room for playing games there," said New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns, who sits on Queen's Park's government agency committee. "It needs to be transparent, it needs to be consistent. The public needs to know what the rules are.
"When you see someone who is making in the hundreds of thousands as the chair of a board or someone alternatively who is making $10,000 or $15,000 as the chair of a board, what does that mean?
"There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason. You always know that when you don't have clarity there, there's potential for game-playing."
Tabuns said the committee has no input into pay and just vets potential appointees, but is interested in taking a closer look at how ABCs tick.
"This summer we will be holding hearings on WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board), LCBO and I think the Metro Convention Centre. There will be three agencies that will be called in for examination of how they're operating," he said.
"You've made us all aware of this huge range and I think it makes sense that we go back to these agencies and say, 'Look, we need to look at why there's this huge range. How do you justify that?' How do we know it's fair, how do we know it's reasonable?"
Ontario's Public Sector Appointments Secretariat says it hands out about 3,800 positions. A few are held down by Ontario Public Service employees but most come from outside. Some, like Cancer Care's Stuart, are paid just for their expenses but most a per diem ranging from $100 to $1,000.
Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar said cabinet and Treasury Board set pay rates for ABCs for which government appoints a majority of board members, while the ABCs themselves set pay rates for those with a minority of provincial appointees.
Typically, Takhar said the larger, higher-profile agencies often require people with highly specialized skills commanding higher pay.
"Sometimes it's hard to get doctors, to get lawyers with that kind of professional experience," he said.
Occasionally, though, Takhar said the opposite is true -- big boards usually have a very strong set of experienced professional managers to rely on, where smaller agencies may well require a more "hands-on" chair capable of a wider range of skills.
It's these kinds of confusing discrepancies that demand the entire roster of ABCs be reviewed, Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman said.
"This is what we were talking about at election time and we've been talking ever since," added Shurman, his party's finance critic.
"You can't make any sense of the agencies, boards and commissions that exist under the Ontario government. I defy anybody to make any sense of the situation. That's why it's absolutely essential to conduct a review and not a haphazard review.
"I'm talking about a full formal review by an independent panel, that says, 'Here's something that works -- let's keep it. Here's where it needs fixing, we'll fix it. Here's something that exists that nobody needs, we're getting rid of it.'"
With compensation "all over the map," Shurman said there's simply no way for MPPs -- let alone the public -- to determine who is doing a good job as a chair.
"You need to do a review and until you do that, it's impossible to say except on a one-off basis to say, 'This guy is good, that guy's bad and the third lady's indifferent'," Shurman said