Secrecy shrouds mandarin salaries

The Yukon government refuses to disclose the salaries of its top bosses — information that is easily found in other, less-secretive…

The Yukon government refuses to disclose the salaries of its top bosses — information that is easily found in other, less-secretive jurisdictions.

Deputy ministers are political appointees who effectively run the government. And they’re paid handsomely to do it: in 2008, Yukon’s deputies received salaries in the range of $138,897 to $180,403.

But the territory won’t release how much each individual was paid.

Contrast this to Ontario, where, for the past 12 years, the government has disclosed the salaries of all public servants who earn more than $100,000.

Similarly, British Columbia has, since 2002, made similar disclosures for salaries worth more than $125,000.

Other provinces disclose the salaries of senior staff in more discreet ways. Alberta publishes the salaries and benefits paid to deputy ministers and other senior staff in the annual reports of departments, while Saskatchewan discloses deputy minister salaries in orders of council.

The reasons for disclosure are simple enough. These civil servants are paid with public money. And their salaries are political decisions — their salary and performance bonuses are set by cabinet.

Only fair, then, that we know how much they pocket.

“It lets taxpayers compare the performance of an organization with the compensation given to the people running it” is how the Ontario government explains its reasons for disclosing salaries.

Here, Premier Dennis Fentie and his cabinet colleagues love to crow about how their government is open and accountable.

Yet it turns out that taxpayers’ right to know how much of their money is being paid to a mandarin is trumped by that boss’s right to privacy from taxpayers — who are, in theory, supposed to be the real bosses of government.

The Yukon Public Services Commission refused to provide the salaries of individual deputy ministers. It said the information was private.

An Access to Information request filed by the Yukon News was recently denied for the same reason. The paper is appealing the decision.

By this measure, many of Yukon’s mining companies are more open and accountable than the territorial government. Executive disclosure is a growing trend in the private sector.

It’s possible to look up the salary of the CEO of Western Copper Corp., even if you haven’t invested a dime in the company.

The publicly owned Yukon Energy Corporation does not disclose the salary of its president in any public document. But ask Willard Phelps, chair of the corporation’s board of directors, and he’ll tell you like it’s no big deal.

President David Morrison earned $223,490 in 2008.

“Everyone will think it’s high,” said Phelps. Yet Morrison’s salary was selected as the median, or 50th percentile, of what presidents of power corporations are paid in other jurisdictions, he said.

The board of directors is considering publishing its executive salaries on a regular basis, said Phelps.

Why disclose? It’s important, said Phelps, because “we are owned in the end by the people of the Yukon.”

The same, of course, is equally true of the Yukon government.

So, why is the privacy of Yukon’s deputy ministers worth so much more than the privacy of the president of Yukon Energy? Or that of senior public servants in much of southern Canada?

The reasonable answer would be: it’s not. So why not disclose?

In fairness, there has been little push to disclose such information in the Yukon until now. Elsewhere, public battles have already been fought, and won, by newspapers and opposition parties to disclose the salaries of top employees.

And blame, in part, Yukon’s particularly weak Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which appears to consider disclosing any employee’s salary an unreasonable intrusion. By comparison, before BC passed its public disclosure law, it was still possible to obtain the contracts of top public servants by filing an Access to Information request.

But not in Yukon. Yet.

Contact John Thompson at

 johnt@yukon-news.com.