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Canada’s top paid CEOs will earn the average yearly income by noon on Jan. 4: report

FILE: A Bay Street sign sits in downtown Toronto, Ontario on May 29, 2012. A new report says Canada's top CEOs have already earned as much as the average Canadian worker by 11:14 a.m. on Jan. 4. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

By the time most Canadians settle back into their work-from-home offices on the first working day of the year, Canada’s top CEOs would have already made the average worker’s salary — $53,482 — according to new research from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The report said that the average top-paid CEO would have made that average income by 11:17 a.m.ET Monday, about an hour later than the previous year. It also found that in 2019, the average top Canadian CEO made 202 times more than the average worker in the same year, which was down from a record 227 times the previous year.

Read more: Top CEOs have already made average Canadian’s salary in 2020: report

“There’s a real golden cushion for a lot of these CEOs, who have seen years of outrageous pay, this will cushion them and their wealth in a sense, but for many of them they will actually see an increase in their pay because their stock has done fairly well during the pandemic,” said David Macdonald, the report’s author and senior economist for the CCPA.

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According to Macdonald, most CEO pay is not in salary, but is handed out to them in bonuses and that because of this, it wouldn’t be possible yet to calculate how much they made in the most recent year. About 82 per cent of this year’s average top CEO income of $10.8 million is made up of bonuses, he added.

While the research found the wage gap had narrowed slightly compared to the previous year, McDonald said that changes to executive pay structure would certainly have to be made, especially given the financial hardships caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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Over a third of the top 100 CEOs of 2019 were found to have ran companies that applied for and received payroll support in 2020 through the federal government’s Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), while about half of that 100 was expected to either retain their compensation or see a raise during the pandemic due to the stock market boom.

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“I still don’t think there’s any way we can avoid it, it’s not built into the rules as it is in other countries like the Netherlands or Spain where you can’t pay out shareholders and executive bonuses at the same time as you’re receiving their version of the wage subsidy,” Macdonald said.

Read more: Canada’s top CEOs will make $50K before noon on Jan. 2: report

“But we can put those rules into place, we haven’t so far, so I think it’s basically guaranteed we’re going to see massive executive bonuses going at the same time as the federal government paying the wages of the companies.”

Macdonald’s research also found that there was roughly 15 per cent people working less among those who were making $17 an hour or less, while the workers with the “highest wages” fully recovered by July.

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According to a 2020 report from the Fraser Institute, CEO pay has increased in recent years due to an increasing demand in skills and competition in the industry.

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“The best business leaders in the world, just like top professional athletes and entertainers, are in limited supply while also being in high demand globally, so the compensation they receive reflects that,” wrote Vincent Geloso, the report’s author, in a press release.

Read more: Gender gap shows a ‘double-pane’ glass ceiling for salary for female CEOs

According to Geloso’s report, the gap between CEO and worker pay in Canada is “overestimated” due to many other comparisons factoring in CEO bonuses. Geloso also argued that the high pay was justified due to the high amount of executive turnover, citing a Globe and Mail survey that found only 15 of the top 100 CEOs remained in the list between 2007 and 2017.

Macdonald, on the other hand, argues that given the economic turmoil of the pandemic, several tweaks have to be made to Canadian tax and wage policy — starting with the federal government restricting the CEWS only to companies that are not paying out executive bonuses, as well as excluding it from companies that substantially increase executive salaries.

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“The argument so far is that the federal government is that companies are using the wage subsidy to pay employees, which they are, but the issue is that we can’t be having companies reward the executives while we’re paying the payroll, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen unless that stipulation is made,” he said.

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Aside from that, Macdonald recommended eliminating executive tax benefits, introducing new marginal tax rates on extreme incomes and increasing the tax rate on those who made more during the pandemic to close the gap.

“One of the places they should be looking at for revenue is to people who have done particularly well from the pandemic, it has not been bad for everyone — a lot of these CEOs would come out of this much better off as a result of the pandemic, and those are the types of people who should be asked to pay a little bit more. They made substantially more, so they should chip in a little bit more.”