ceo pay canada

Canada's top CEOs now make roughly 191 times more money than the average worker

As throngs of workers struggled with unemployement and precarious job security in the early days of pandemic life, those at the top of Canada's largest companies were straight up raking in cash.

This, according to a newly-released report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) entitled "Another year in paradise: CEO pay in 2020."

The independent think tank's latest report, published Tuesday, reveals that Canada's 100 highest-paid CEOs (based on the S&P/TSX Composite) got paid an average of $10.9 million in 2020 — nearly $100,000 more than earned on average during 2019.

"Every year we examine trends in CEO compensation in Canada. General trends show that compensation for the highest-paid CEOs in Canada is impervious to external shocks, such as the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic," reads the report's introduction.

"In fact, the highest-paid 100 CEOs in Canada had the second-highest average compensation levels in this country's history during the pandemic."

Per the latest numbers, those top 100 CEOs make about 191 times more money than the average worker in Canada, meaning that they all earned more money than most people make all year on the first working day of 2022. Before lunchtime, at that.

Meanwhile, as Unifor points out, essential workers in frontline jobs had to fight for a meagre increase of $2 per hour at grocery stores — a benefit that was scrapped after just a few weeks in mid 2020 and has yet to be reinstated.

And if that doesn't get your goat, hold tight: According to the CCPA, 30 of the country's top 100 CEOs actually headed up companies that recieved the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (a federally-funded benefit for employers to subsidize the wages of their employees.)

This suggests that they used tax dollars to help pay workers, half of whom (making $17 an hour or less) either lost their job or the majority of their working hours at the beginning of the pandemic, while also earning significantly more at the CEO level than they did the year previous.

"Record levels of government support were deployed to support individuals who were sideswiped by the pandemic. Across all levels of government, $150 billion was transferred directly to individuals to offset the economic impacts of the pandemic.

"While much attention has been focused on federal supports for the jobless, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), businesses actually received more support than individuals," explains CCPA senior economist David Macdonald.

Individuals recieved a collective $150 billion directly to help offset the impacts of the pandemic in 2020, while businesses received $176 billion in COVID-19 support through programs such as the aforementioned CEWS.

"The CEWS was meant to go to businesses that saw large declines in revenue during the worst of the pandemic, but some companies with the highest-paid 100 CEOs in Canada continued to paying bonuses to their CEOs while receiving the CEWS," reads the report.

"Many companies that received the CEWS were profitable while receiving government subsidies and were paying cash to shareholders all the while."

Some CEOs (14 of the top 100) also saw their salary and bonus structures change "to protect them from the impact of COVID-19," according to the report.

Bonus pay, aka "variable compensation," currently makes up 82 per cent of the average top CEO's compensation.

"Bonus pay has been increasing in importance compared to salaries. If there is a singular reason why CEO pay is in the stratosphere, it's because out of control bonuses are protected from going down, even in a pandemic," says Macdonald.

Variable compensation—encompassing different forms of bonuses, such as cash bonuses and stock options—now makes up 82% of total compensation for top CEOs.

You can read more about how this system came to be in the full report, which also includes potential solutions for lessening income inequality (a wealth tax is just one solution.)

Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, the findings are likely to make you quite mad — unless, of course, you happen to be one of Canada's very top CEOs, which you can also find a list of in the full report.

Lead photo by

Joseph luong


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