Total compensation for chief executives at Canada’s largest companies climbed 11 per cent in 2013, according to consulting firm Global Governance Advisors, marking four years of sharp increases in pay for CEOs.
According to Statistics Canada, the average industrial wage jumped 3.1 per cent from March 2012 to 2013, rising to about $932 a week, or $48,480 a year.
Median compensation for CEOs was $5.6 million, or 115 times the average industrial wage.
Global Governance Advisors says Canada’s company chiefs are not yet earning as much as they were before the downturn – when median compensation was $5.8 million. Median pay had slipped as low as $4 million in 2009 in GGA’s annual review of CEO compensation.
"What our study found was, CEO levels in 2013 have now rebounded to what we saw in CEO pay levels pre-financial crisis," Paul Gryglewicz, managing partner at Global Governance Advisors, said in an interview with CBC News.
Last year, salaries and bonuses were up 18 per cent and equity compensation climbed 14 per cent, in part a result of the improvement in stock prices. Many CEOs get much of their compensation in share units and stock options.
Median pay levels on the GGA review can vary from year to year, because different companies are selected annually. This year, the top earner was Gerald Schwartz at Onex Corp., who took home more than $87 million because of a large package of stock options, followed by Nadir Mohamed at Rogers, who had total reported compensation of $26.7 million.
CEO pay is usually set by a company board and began rising rapidly in the 1990s when securities commissions mandated rules that top executives’ pay scales should be made public.
That led to many boards comparing their own executive compensation plan with what CEOs are paid at other companies, including companies in the U.S., which have even higher executive compensation.
"What we’re noticing in the data today is the probability of an executive getting these good pay levels has changed since the financial crisis, primarily in directors using performance share units," Gryglewicz said.
He said more directors are using long-term incentives such as stock options to reward executives as a means to tying compensation more tightly to performance.
"There’s a level of risk and a level of job hours and skill and knowledge that comes with taking an executive role," he added,
GGA said many Canadian companies – including Canadian Pacific Railway and Barrick Gold – saw a changeover in top management in the past year, which can lead to a large payout to the outgoing CEO and a jump in compensation as the company tries to attract new talent.
Shareholders’ rights and equality focused organizations have also begun pushing back on the issue of CEO pay, turning up at company annual general meetings to demand more accountability over the issue.
In the U.S., Dodd-Frank legislation could soon require U.S. companies to report on the ratio of CEO pay to that of the average worker, hoping it would lead to a moderation in CEO pay.
Gryglewicz said the issue of pay ratio of the CEO to the average worker is "on directors' radar" in Canada too.
"There is some preliminary research being done in some pockets in the governance world to evaluate that pay differential and what is the right balance," he added.
Top 10 Canadian CEOs by total compensation
- Gerald Schwartz, Onex, $87.9M
- Nadir Mohamed, Rogers, $26.7M
- Michael Wilson, Agrium, $23.8M
- Donald Walker, Magna, $19.6M
- Gerald Nixon, RBC, $14M
- Doug Suttles, Encana, $13.7M
- Steve Williams, Suncor, $12.8M
- Scott Saxberg, Crescent Point Energy, $12.7M
- Donald Guloien, Manulife, $12.7M
- Bradley Shaw, Shaw Communications, $12.4
Source: Global Governance Advisors