Stuart Whitley, deputy minister of Health, wants to disclose how much he earns.
But he’s not allowed to.
Such information is public knowledge in most Canadian jurisdictions. But not in the Yukon, where the actual salaries and bonuses paid to top staff is a secret.
Only salary ranges are disclosed.
“In my view, these figures should be released,” Whitley wrote in a January 15 e-mail to Patricia Daws, commissioner of the Public Service Commission.
“We are paid out of public funds. Withholding the info makes us look nontransparent and defensive. I’m not happy about public finger-pointing and speculation but it’s a lesser evil than secrecy in government administration.”
Whitley wrote the e-mail after he and other deputies were asked to voluntarily disclose their salary details by the Yukon News.
This triggered a flurry of e-mails, later obtained by the News through an access to information request.
When Whitley wrote he was “inclined” to disclose his salary, Daws replied, “Please do not do this.”
The Public Service Commission would take the lead, she said. They needed to consider provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, she said.
This is curious, because the law in no way prohibits anyone from voluntarily disclosing personal information.
But Whitley deferred to Daws and agreed that deputies should put forward a united front.
“Regardless of the decision, a response must be made that is rational and defensible,” he wrote. “And not merely because we can find a sliver of justification in ATIPP legislationÃ‰.”
Deputies met the following day to discuss the request. In the end, no disclosures were made.
Releasing actual salaries and bonuses would be an “unreasonable invasion” of privacy under the ATIPP Act, Daws told the News in an e-mail. It’s the same answer she offered in December when first asked to release salary details.
Yukon’s deputy ministers received salaries that ranged from $138,897 to $180,403 in 2008. They may have also received performance bonuses of up to eight per cent of their salary.
These ranges are based on the median salary of deputies in seven jurisdictions: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba,
Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the federal government.
Almost every province releases how much it pays individual deputy ministers, with the exceptions of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
None of the territories do. Nor does the federal government.
Why disclose? Because deputies effectively run the government. Anyone with such power ought to be more accountable than your average bureaucrat, most provincial governments have determined.
Another reason is because it allows citizens to judge for themselves the performance of a government department and compare it to how much money its boss receives. It’s the same reason why most public corporations release how much they pay their CEO.
Yukon Energy, Yukon College and the Yukon Hospital Corporation all disclosed how much they pay their top bosses when asked to do so. But the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board refused because its head is legally considered a deputy minister.
Alberta, for one, has similar access to information restraints as the Yukon. It gets around this obstacle and discloses payments to top staff through a directive issued by its treasury board.
Yukon’s cabinet ministers, who were elected on promises to run an open and accountable government, have so far shown no interest in following suit, or commenting on the matter.
The News’ request for salary disclosures provoked a range of emotions from deputies.
One was upset. Another was indifferent. And one claimed to not know how much he earned.
Angus Robertson, deputy of Energy, Mines and Resources, found the request to be “disturbing.”
“What is the value, really, in Ã‰ making public individual salaries?” he asked.
Neither was Robertson happy to later learn that his correspondence would be released to the newspaper.
“I guess we also will need to consider in the course of the next two weeks if this ground war is worth fighting, as clearly he will continue to drag us through the mud,” Robertson wrote.
Harvey Brooks, deputy of Economic Development, was “not opposed to releasing the information” but didn’t want to see it done “piecemeal.”
“I also view it as the government’s prerogative and not the employee’s, to release the contracts and salaries,” Brooks wrote.
“How much do I make?” said Mike Johnson, deputy minister of Highways and Public Works. “Yukon News would have to talk to Cheryl.”
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