Are CEO salaries fair?
The real reason Canadian CEOs get paid so much.
They say the fourth Monday of January — "Blue Monday," as it's known — is the most depressing day on the calendar, but for Canadians, that day might come a bit earlier.
Just days after the New Year brought new resolutions and new hope, we were crushed, once again, by our bosses.
Splashed across every headline in the country last month were the results from a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). Their findings? That the top 100 CEOs in the nation would have already earned the average Canadian salary of $42,988 by mid-afternoon Monday, Jan. 3 — the very first working day of 2011.
Outrage, of course, was not far behind.
Gallery: Canada's 10 highest-paid CEOs
"I think it's absurd," wrote one MSN.ca reader on the site's message boards. "No one is worth the kind of money these CEO's (sic) are making. Unless they are saving lives."
Saving lives, well, no, they are not. Certainly Aaron Regent, the Barrick Gold CEO and Canada's highest-paid executive, isn't performing heart surgery or pulling children from burning buildings. According to the CCPA, however, he's still awarded an annual compensation worth $24.2 million for his efforts.
Yet spurning Canada's ultra-successful businessmen for their wealth belies two key issues raised by the CCPA's survey:
- How are Canada's CEOs getting away with such ludicrous earnings? and
- Is runaway executive pay actually making us hate our bosses?
To answer, it helps to go back. While they were by no means dining at the YMCA before, executive pay packages haven't always been so excessive. In fact, it wasn't until 1992 that the Securities and Exchange Commission demanded American companies disclose a breakdown of the salaries, bonuses and stock options paid to their top lieutenants.
Though what was meant as an enforcement practice only ended up creating a well-how-much-do-you-make market among business executives, driving up compensation competition instead of getting it under control. In Canada, between 1998 and 2008, our 100 best-paid CEOs' average compensation outpaced inflation by a staggering 53 per cent. To put that into perspective, in 1998 those same top execs earned pay packages worth about 104 times the average Canadian wage. In 2009, says the CCPA, that number jumped to about 155.
"What [these figures] say to us is that these companies have revenue to share," says George Doubt, president of the Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU), who estimates the pay given to his front-line workers, when stretched out over a similar period, would have increased at a rate somewhat less than the cost of living. "We're happy to see businesses earning profits and doing well, but it's also important that our union members get their fair share."
And what is fair? When it comes to CEOs, the Canadian public has always been fed the same line.
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