What pandemic? A tale of two downturns in Toronto

Municipal employee salary hikes during lockdowns a slap in the face to taxpayers

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Jay GoldbergAs hardworking taxpayers tightened their belts last year to cope with pay cuts and job losses, Toronto’s municipal employees were busy cashing in bigger paycheques with your tax dollars.

The City of Toronto currently employs 34,603 workers. Last year, only 104 of them didn’t get a raise. That means over 99.6 per cent of Toronto municipal employees got a pay hike.

Toronto has been experiencing a tale of two pandemics. Government employees have largely got through the downturn scot-free, while workers outside of government have borne the burden.

The fact that over 34,000 City of Toronto employees received pay increases in 2020 shows how out of touch government bureaucrats are with the day-to-day realities facing taxpayers.

The tale of two pandemics can be seen in other ways. More than 108,000 Torontonians were added to the ranks of the unemployed last year and Toronto’s unemployment rate sits at 13.1 per cent. All while, the number of Ontario municipal employees making more than $100,000 increased by 6.4 per cent to 7,239.

Higher salaries and benefits for Toronto’s municipal government employees cost taxpayers an extra $173 million in 2020. For context, that’s more than four times what the City of Toronto spends on long-term care.

These government employee salary hikes during lockdowns are a slap in the face to taxpayers. Government employees were already making 10.3 per cent more than taxpayers with comparable jobs in the private sector.

How can we begin to heal this budding divide between the two camps that seem to be living in different worlds?

The answer is simple: build a bridge.

To do so, the city should reduce the wages of government employees until they are in line with the compensation received by comparable workers outside of government.

In addition to bureaucrat pay reductions, taxpayers also expect leadership from the top. That means Toronto’s elected officials should take the lead and give themselves a significant pay cut.

They certainly wouldn’t be the first municipal politicians to do so.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage demonstrated his solidarity with taxpayers at the outset of the pandemic by cutting his pay by 20 percent. City councillors in Burnaby, British Columbia, followed suit, with a 10 per cent pay cut of their own. These are but two examples.

Toronto city councillors are paid $117,000 per year, with staffing budgets of nearly half a million dollars each.

Mayor John Tory receives a salary of $197,000, with a staffing budget of over $2.5 million. For context, Tory makes more than the premier of Alberta.

At the same time, the average income in the City of Toronto is $47,617.

As taxpayers face difficult times ahead, Toronto’s city councillors can show that they understand the hardships their constituents are going through by reducing their pay. Politicians can’t remain in touch with their constituents when they are divorced from the financial realities of the people they are supposed to serve.

After cutting their own paycheques, councillors should go further, reducing the wages of municipal employees until they are in line with their private-sector counterparts.

Politicians and bureaucrats shouldn’t just hear about the hardships facing taxpayers on the news or from their neighbours. It’s time for these government employees to stand side by side with their fellow Torontonians and help shoulder the burden of the downturn.

Jay Goldberg is the Interim Ontario Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Jay is one of our Thought Leaders. For interview requests, click here.


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