Canada’s top CEOs pocketed a Canadian’s average yearly income by noon today, according to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).
The report, entitled “The Golden Cushion: CEO Compensation in Canada,” says that by 11:17 a.m on Jan. 4. – an hour later than last year - the average top-100 CEO made the average worker’s salary of $53,482, based on 2019 corporate compensation data.
In contrast, the report says the average top-100 CEO pay in 2019 was $10.8 million, which means they made 202 times more than the average worker that year.
Factoring in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has decimated small businesses and cost thousands of jobs, the report concludes that “most higher-income workers have seen a complete recovery from whatever modest losses they experienced up to July 2020.”
“Proving that we are really not all in this together, a soaring stock market in the latter half of 2020 will likely not only keep CEO pay afloat but increase it over 2019 levels,” says report author and Senior Economist for the CCPA, David MacDonald.
MacDonald examined Canada’s CEOs “golden cushion” which has been allowing them to ride out the pandemic, noting that CEOs are paid differently than regular workers – insofar as most executive compensation comes from “variable pay” or bonuses.
In 2019, only 12 per cent of top-100 CEO pay came from a salary, the rest – 82 per cent – came in some form of a bonus, either in cash, shares or stock options.
MacDonald said it is those bonus options, especially shares and stocks, that keep the “golden cushion” afloat. When stock options are used, CEOs pay “half the tax on their profits they would have paid if they had received the same amount in cash.”
And the pandemic did not dull their earning potential for long.
“Despite the worst public health crisis in modern history, by December 11, 2020, the S&P/TSX Composite Index, which tracks the shares prices of the companies from which our CEO list is drawn, was up 3 per cent from its December 31, 2019 level. This rapid stock market recovery has boosted the fortunes of the already wealthy and those whose incomes are based on share values,” the report states.
On top of that, more than a third of the top-100 CEOs of 2019 run companies that applied for and received support through the federal government’s Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS)
Only three of the 36 CEOs who received CEWS waived their annual salary for 2020, which MacDonald reiterates is only 12 per cent of total CEO compensation, and so they will still receive millions of dollars of bonuses in 2020.
MacDonald noted that similar wage subsidy programs in countries such as Spain and the Netherlands have restrictions in place so that companies don’t qualify for payroll support if they pay out executive bonuses or dividends to shareholders – something Canada does not have.
“Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has said the CEWS should not be used to pad executive bonuses. However, without restrictions, it is highly likely that this will happen,” the report says.
MacDonald gave several recommendations at the end of the report, including that the federal government initiate restrictions as to who qualifies for CEWS like Spain and the Netherlands, along with eliminating the capital gains inclusion rate and replacing it with an inflation adjustment to nix the 50 per cent off in taxes for CEOs using stock options.