Quite the dustup on Twitter today over whether or not Peter Mansbridge's salary should be publicly disclosed. I came out on the side of the firmly against.
Emmett Macfarlane surprised me when he tweeted: "I am in favour of a 'sunshine' list for the entire fed govt, just like Ontario's." and quickly countered my reply with "People arguing a sunshine list doesn't "do" anything. Transparency is an end in itself"
I don't agree that Transparency is in and of itself a public good. Whenever the public desires transparency it does need extra justification. In the case of personal information I firmly believe (to paraphrase Carl Sagan) that extraordinary claims to individuals' private data requires extraordinary proof of public good.
When it comes to the individual salaries of public sector employees, I do not see any public value or public good in having that knowledge. The problem with a salary is that it is highly subjective. Many factors dictate what an employee is worth including skills, length of service, market employee works in, rarity or demand for skills and execution of said skills. That's a small part of a much bigger list. These and many other factors are what dictate the salaries managers approve for their employees. This is why CBC hires managers, they are specialists in this area. Do you have equal knowledge and ability as CBC management and as such are qualified to second guess their decisions? I highly doubt it.
If we want to know the salary of Peter Mansbridge, for that knowledge to have meaning we would need to know the justifications managers used for that salary. Otherwise it is just a number. A big number that is likely quite large in comparison to the majority of Canadians. But that would be true for any anchor of a national news broadcast. So why would we need to only know Peter Mansbridge's salary and none of his peers in the private sector? If we were to know his salary what would we do with that knowledge?
Knowing someone's salary gives you power over that individual. Like any power, it should be used for good, for the betterment of all. When it comes to salaries, I just don't trust society to be responsible with that knowledge. We are a vain, petty, jealous, vicious species and when it comes to money all our worst traits come to the fore.
But even if we were pure of intent and purpose, what does that knowledge give us? What would it change or enable? I honestly cannot think of a thing. Feel free to prospose something in the comments. Expand my knowledge here because I am drawing a complete blank. This is why I feel that such knowledge would be abused. When positives are absent, negative consequences will abound.
As voters we do have a right to know how well our tax dollars are being spent. But that can only be done through comparitive analysis with similar private sector organizations. Does the CBC have significantly higher or lower mangement costs than private interests such as CTV, Global, etc.? That knowledge has value as it offers an opportunity to weigh the investment being made. But that valuation is done not with individual salary data, but through the aggregate of all expenses. Simply put, to evaluate the worth of CBC, we evaluate the CBC as a whole, not by micromanaging individual salaries.
So if you still believe that as a taxpayer you are entitled to know the salaries of public sector employees, please explain why you believe that and what you would do with that knowledge and power. The answer "Because that is my money" doesn't cut it. It isn't your money anymore, it ceased to be yours the moment the government collected it.
Give me the extraordinary evidence that such knowledge is a public good.