Skip to content

COLUMN: It's Ottawa's fault CEOs can't keep hands out of cookie jar

In retrospect, you’d be surprised if these companies didn’t take the federal handout because it was, well, free money
2021-04-10 Canada flag RB 4
Canada flag.

I really don’t care that the 100 top-paid chief executive officers (CEOs) of large Canadian corporations make more than 190 times my annual salary.

Or that their average annual compensation totalled $10.9 million in 2020, including cash bonuses and stock options, or about $95,000 more than their average pay in 2019, before the pandemic hit.

That’s private money CEOs earn, not taxpayers’ dollars, someone else’s money that can be spent any which way they desire.

It’s no skin off my nose, because I have no skin in the game.

Or didn’t have until learning that a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report determined more than one-third of the companies headed by these CEOs received the COVID-19 Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), either directly or indirectly through their subsidiaries or franchisees.


Or that David Macdonald, the report’s author and senior economist with the CCPA, a think-tank studying economic inequity, has suggested the added CEWS subsidy helped some CEOs achieve revenue targets for lucrative bonuses  as their companies suffered financial hardship due to the pandemic.


First, if a company can afford to pay its CEO, on average, $11 million annually it should not be applying for, let alone getting, public money to shore up its bottom line, even if it’s flagging.

CEWS, a federal program, was trotted out in March 2020  when the pandemic hit  to help companies minimize job losses when COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns made it so tough to do business. All companies had to do to qualify for CEWS was show a revenue drop during the pandemic.

In retrospect, you’d be surprised if these companies didn’t take the federal handout because it was, well, free money. Who could resist that?

Besides, who really expects big companies to do the right thing and keep their hands out of the cookie jar when no one is particularly looking?

The fault really lies with Ottawa  not just the governing Liberals, but the Conservatives and New Democrats as well.

Not only for making the CEWS qualifications too easy (Liberals), but for not opposing them and toughening them (Conservatives and NDP).

It was a minority government, for goodness sake. A hard political sneeze would have brought it down.

Of course, no one really wanted a federal election in March 2020 when the pandemic was new and scary. (It’s still scary.)

And since throwing money at problems is how governments try to solve them, that’s what Parliament did.

As of last month, the feds had paid out $99.13 billion under CEWS.

No, that’s not a typo. More than $99 billion.

However, much this pandemic ends up costing current and future Canadians, that money will be a significant portion of it  one that my grandchildren could one day be cursing as they pay their income taxes every spring.

Because one way or another, the pandemic’s bill will come due and it will be substantial.

Macdonald recommends the feds tax top earners at a higher rate and lose tax loopholes, noting higher taxes for well-paid CEOs would help refill Ottawa’s coffers after billions in COVID-19 benefits like CEWS were paid out.

Canada’s COVID fiscal hole isn’t entirely the fault of these CEOs, of course.

But they sure didn’t help matters. 

And now I do care that they make 190 times my salary. 

Bob Bruton is a staff reporter with BarrieToday.