CEO Pay and Unspent COVID Funds

Canadian Centre for Policy AlternativesErika Shaw: Director, National Office; Editor, Our School/Our Selves

Canadian workers and families continue to dig deep in the fight against COVID-19. At the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, we spent January asking: are politicians and industry leaders doing the same?

The 2021 CEO report by David MacDonald revealed, that, for the third year in a row, Canada’s top paid executives received more than 200 times the average worker’s pay. Collectively for 2019, their income was more than a billion dollars and not much was expected to change for 2020.  Furthermore, in spite of these earnings, the report found that of the 100 top paid CEOs on the list, 36 took advantage of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program, which subsidizes up to 75% of company payrolls during COVID-19. Only three of the CEOs identified in our report have said they will waive their salaries for 2020.

On the public side, Picking up the Tab provided a much-needed accounting of the emergency programs introduced since the beginning of the pandemic. David Macdonald’s thorough analysis revealed that, when it comes to funding the recovery, the federal government is doing the heavy lifting. But many provinces aren’t accepting the help; in fact, a majority of the provinces have left billions in COVID-19 funds on the table.  Overall, it found that federal and provincial governments have earmarked $374 billion in direct COVID-19 emergency spending (excluding liquidity measures such as loans and unallocated funds). Of that, $343 billion or 92 per cent comes from Ottawa, and $31 billion or eight per cent comes from the provinces. In the middle of the pandemic, Ontario alone has left $6.4 billion in COVID-19 funds unspent.

Together, these reports are helping us drive a vital conversation about the need to adequately invest in the COVID-19 recovery, and how tax fairness at the upper end of Canada’s earning bracket can help fund these initiatives.