Top Canadian CEOs paid almost 159 times the average worker’s salary last year

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The CEOs of Canada’s biggest companies are paid 159 times more than average workers, according to a report from consultancy Gallagher McDowall & Associates.

The consultancy has tracked executive compensation for the past six years, dating back to 2010. In this year’s report, released Friday, they looked at executive compensation among the members of the TSX 60, which is a list of the 60 most valuable publicly traded companies in Canada. The group also delved into compensation practices at the next 60 largest firms, for a total pool of 120 Canadian companies.

Among the top tier, the numbers suggest that executive compensation actually declined in 2015 from the previous year’s level. All in, the typical CEO of a TSX 60 member company took in $7.89 million last year, down from $7.99 million in 2014.

The tier below, however, saw their pay packets increase from $3.91 million in 2014 to $4.06 million last year.

That’s not just cash — it includes base salaries, bonuses, stocks, stock options, pensions and other forms of compensation.

Rising tide

While compensation for the top tier appears to have stabilized, it’s done so after having risen by about 25 per cent in the previous six years, the report says. Managing director Robert Levasseur says in an interview that there’s a clearer trend toward higher compensation at larger companies versus smaller ones.

“The larger the company, the higher the pay,” he says.

Exorbitant pay packages have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, but lost in the shuffle, Levasseur says, is the notion that high-income CEOs also contribute a disproportionately large amount to Canada’s tax base.

According to the report, the average CEO of one of Canada’s biggest 60 companies paid $3.47 million in taxes last year, roughly 44 per cent of their income. That compares with the average industrial worker, who the report says paid $8,067 in income taxes, or 16 per cent of their pay packet.

The company estimates that Canada’s top CEOs paid about $200 million in income tax last year, a figure which is roughly equivalent to what 25,000 average industrial workers would have collectively paid.

That calculation does not factor in any tax avoidance strategies that may have been used, and instead is culled from a model that calculates what a person would pay in taxable income on investment gains were their stock-based compensation to be booked as regular income.

“There’s this assumption that when you’re a very high earner you don’t pay any tax,” Levasseur says. “These people earn a lot of money but by the same token they do pay a substantial amount of tax.”

All in all, Levasseur says, executive compensation at large Canadian companies still pales in comparison to what happens at U.S. ones, where the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio currently sits at more than 300 to one.

Levasseur says he’s reluctant to come up, when asked, with a number of what the ratio should be as an ideal.

“It’s really hard to determine what’s reasonable,” he says. “I don’t know if Jose Bautista’s or Sidney Crosby’s compensation is reasonable, but they operate in an open market — they are getting out of the system as much as they can.”

More important than how much a CEO is paid or how much they are paid compared to their workers is whether or not the company is getting value for that money.

“It’s incumbent on boards to ensure they are comfortable with compensation,” he says, “but they have to be paying these people based on performance.”

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Top Canadian CEOs paid almost 159 times the average worker’s salary last year

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