Arbitration Nation

It wouldn't be a public sector salary disclosure story without the odd nasty comment about the amount police officers and firefighters earn. And as my colleague Alanah Duffy reports in her piece on the most recent Brockville Sunshine List, there are, yet again, plenty of police officers and firefighters on this year's list.

The number of employees earning a six-digit salary fell from 39 people in 2011 to 32 in 2012. Of those 32, only a half-dozen city hall employees are not emergency services workers. And of those remaining six, only four actually remain, since former finance director Donna Cyr and former municipal information systems supervisor John Peters were casualties of a restructuring last fall.

For the most part, then, Brockville's Sunshine List echoes the refrain of the British socialist punk band Gang of Four: "I Love a Man in a Uniform."

It's inevitable that, with another onslaught of six-digit numbers in the news, the Commentersphere would light up with talk of the pros and cons of an Ontario Provincial Police costing. (For more on that debate, which resumes next month, see tomorrow's R&T.)

Frankly, the idea of replacing the city force with the OPP as a way of shrinking the Sunshine List is misguided.

Brockville's list would shrink, no doubt, but the province's list would grow by the same amount. And as we all know, there is only one taxpayer.

The Ontario government's contract with the OPP ensures the provincial force will be the highest paid in the province in 2014, once the public-sector wage freeze put in place under former Premier Dalton McGuinty expires.

That's one factor. The other is provincial arbitration, which continues to award emergency services across Ontario wage settlements that stretch municipal governments' ability to pay.

I am not referring to arbitration decisions affecting Brockville specifically, although those do exist in the fire services. I am talking about arbitration in general: a high award anywhere in the province sets the standard for all negotiations, tilting the playing field in favour of labour and, perhaps, dissuading the management side from even considering the arbitration option.

Premier Kathleen Wynne's Throne Speech last month spoke of arbitration reform, something the government put on hold when McGuinty prorogued the legislature.

That won't shrink the Sunshine List, of course, but it could prevent a further escalation.