I don't put a lot of stalk in the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Not because I don't think independent oversight of how the government spends our tax money is unwarranted, it surely is, but rather I find the CTF a few rungs above Grover Norquist. Sure, it doesn't go as far as suggesting that taxes should never be raised ever, on anyone, regardless of the circumstances, but nine-and-half times out of ten, if it came down to raising taxes or not raising taxes, they'd just say no. And I think we've seen how well that's working south of the border with Norquist's Draconian pledge-making.
Anyway, the reason for the preamble is that there's a new report card out that's making some waves. The CTF has published a document that awards several cities throughout southern Ontario a letter grade, and while Guelph had the unfortunate distinction of being awarded a D, we certainly weren't alone in the dunce end of the classroom. Burlington, Markham, Vaughn, Ajax, Durham, Cambridge, Toronto and Kingston all joined Guelph in getting a D, while poor Oshawa will have to repeast the year with an F. St. Catherine's and Kitchener where the keeners in the class, each scoring a modest B-minus.
So what makes Guelph - and others - rank a D? Inadequate services? No value for money spent? Wasteful spending? No, the grade stems entirely from the so-called "Sunshine List," a compilation of government employees that make over $100,000 per year. Apparently, both the size of the list and the size of the saleries is growing too fast, according to CTF Ontario Director Candice Malcolm, who authored the report.
“Guelph has one of the highest ratios of high priced bureaucrats per capita, and one of the highest levels of growth in government worker compensation," says Malcolm. "Taxpayers deserve better."
Guelph, however, did score a modest C in the average salary category. “Guelph punches below its weight in municipal management," she says. "Growth in salary spending is spiraling out of control and must be curbed."
I personally always find the Sunshine List to be a canard, show me someone who draws a government salary, and I'll show you someone who thinks they make too much. And what's worse is that the government seems to be the only sector where criticism of people getting paid too much seems to stick. The players' salaries affect how much it costs to see your favourite pro-sports team, your favourite actor's paycheque has an affect on how much you pay to see a movie, and the salary and benefits of your bank's CEO come out of the accounting fees you pay monthly. But I digress, because this seems like a really limited method with which to compare how tax money is spent between different cities, and that's not the only methodological problem with the report card.
Indeed, as others have pointed out, the report doesn't take into account cities that are both their own government and part of a regional government, like St. Catherine's (The Niagara Region) and Kitchener (Waterloo Region), coincidentally numbers first and second on the TCF's report card. Now areas like Brampton, Vaughn, Mississauga and Durham secured lower grades and are also part of regional governments, but it is a consideration that the TCF seem to not even factor in. There's also some major differences in terms of size and disposition of the population in the municipalities graded; I'm not sure, for instance, how you grade Mississauga (713,443) when comparing it to Chatham-Kent (103,671).
In recent times we've become more invested in seeing how the people of one area fair in terms of taxation and returns received on that taxation versus other municipalities, and I think a fair study may be in order and helpful, but I'm afraid this so-called report card is not it. And before you think my own bias made me write it off, I'll draw your attention to a statistic on the report labelled the "Fat Cat Ratio." Not only is that rather inaccurate, but I find this kind of terminology on an "official" report of a recognized and well-regarded lobbying group to be rather, for lack of a better word, childish. And if a government worker making $150,000 is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's idea of a "Fat Cat," I'd hate to hear what they call anyone who bring in seven figures or more.
You can read the full report for yourself here.