Deputy ministers prefer secrecy to openness

Just because the Yukon government behaves in an inordinately silly fashion to prevent the disclosure of the salaries and bonuses it pays deputy ministers -- information that is public knowledge in almost every province -- does...

Just because the Yukon government behaves in an inordinately silly fashion to prevent the disclosure of the salaries and bonuses it pays deputy ministers—information that is public knowledge in almost every province—does not mean that deputies themselves condone such secrecy.

To give them the benefit of the doubt, Yukon News asked deputy ministers to volunteer to disclose their salaries and benefits in the spirit of open and accountable government. They were given a week to reply.

None answered.

By comparison, the publicly owned Yukon Energy Corp. agreed to disclose how much it pays its president and CEO, David Morrison, even though this information is not contained in any public document.

He received 3,490 in 2008.

Morrison’s job is comparable to that of deputy ministers. They’re all bosses of publicly owned institutions. But when it comes to the disclosure of executive compensation, the Yukon government values secrecy above the public’s right to know.

The Public Service Commission objects to releasing actual salaries and bonuses on the grounds that it would be an unreasonable invasion of privacy under Yukon’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The commission will only disclose that deputies were paid salaries that ranged from 8,897 to 0,403 in 2008. Performance bonuses may be up to eight per cent of annual salaries.

The Yukon News is appealing this decision with the office of the access to information commissioner.

Such disclosures are by no means unusual. They’re made by every provincial government other than New Brunswick and PEI. And they’re commonplace among most big public corporations and a growing number of small ones.

By this measure, your bank is more transparent than your government. Canadian banks routinely disclose how much their executives earn in shareholder reports.

If fretting over this sounds quaint and old-fashioned, that’s because it is. Such fights for information have long been settled in most of Canada.

Yukon is “wildly out of step with the rest of the country,” says Mary Agnes Welch, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists. She expressed incredulity when she heard the government would not disclose such information.

“That’s so 1974,” she said.

Salary secrecy here appears to have less to do with weak laws—although we have those—than weak leaders.

Even if such secrecy is permissible under Yukon law, it would be simple for Premier Dennis Fentie and his cabinet colleagues, who were elected under the promise of running an open and accountable government, to make such disclosures without amending any legislation.

Alberta got around a similar legal problem by passing a simple Treasury Board directive that orders departments to disclose the salaries and bonuses of senior staff. There’s no reason why Yukon’s Management Board could not do the same.

But, so far, Fentie refuses to discuss the subject.

In contrast, both of Yukon’s opposition parties agree that the territory ought to disclose the actual salaries it pays its top bosses.

“I don’t see any reason why, at that level, the deputy level, this shouldn’t be a matter of public record, as it is in most other jurisdictions,” said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

“These are big boys and girls, if they’ve reached that kind of job in their career. You shouldn’t have anything to hide.”

“This is public money,” said NDP Leader Todd Hardy. “Therefore the public has a right to know. We need that open accountability.”

It would be comforting to know that deputy ministers felt the same way. After all, no law prohibits them from voluntarily releasing their salaries and bonuses, as is done in much of Canada.

Their nonresponse suggests otherwise. For now, if Yukoners want a whiff of real accountability, they may want to stay clear of government offices and instead head for a bank.

Contact John Thompson at

w johnt@yukon-news.com.

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