Top CEOs make 191 times more than average worker

30 of Canada's highest-paid 100 leaders head companies benefiting from CEWS

Top CEOs make 191 times more than average worker

Despite the hardships of the ongoing pandemic, CEO pay in Canada reached near-record levels in 2020.

The highest-paid leaders were paid an average of $10.9 million, compared to $10.8 million in 2019, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The highest average CEO pay was in 2018, when they made $11.8 million, but their 2020 pay is the second highest in history.

They now make 191 times more than the average worker wage in Canada.

“At this rate, it will take the average worker the entire year to accrue what Canada’s highest-paid CEOs will rack up just before lunch on Jan. 4 — the first official working day of the year,” says David Macdonald, CCPA senior economist and author of the report.

“2020 was a horrible year for many workers hit hard by the pandemic, but CEO pay appears to be impervious to any shock to the system.”

Government supports

The report, Another Year in Paradise: CEO Pay in 2020, also finds that among the richest 100 CEOs: 30 headed companies that received the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), 14 saw their bonuses changed to protect them from the impact of COVID-19, and five experienced both.

Initially, there was no requirement that CEWS went toward workers’ wages, says the CCPA.

“While it was calculated as a proportion of Canadian payroll, companies didn’t have to show that it went to payroll. It could have gone to anything that the company wished, including increased executive bonuses. The rules were amended in 2021: as of June 5, 2021, companies could no longer collect the CEWS while paying their executives more than they did in 2019.”

While there has been plenty of talk in the past about compensation gaps between executive and employee salaries, a new study out of the U.K. is proving that too large of a chasm will actually harm performance.


One big reason for the gains is variable compensation such as cash bonuses and stock options, which make up 82 per cent of total compensation for top CEOs, compared to roughly 70 per cent a decade ago.

“Bonus pay has been increasing in importance compared to salaries. If there is a singular reason why CEO pay is in the stratosphere, it's because out-of-control bonuses are protected from going down, even in a pandemic,” says Macdonald.

Half of the 100 best-paid CEOs ran companies with support from government or their bonuses were changed to forestall the COVID-19 impact on their compensation.

“In either event, the idea that ‘merit’ is behind extraordinary bonus pay rings hollow,” says the report, which recommends a range of policy solutions including:

  • capping the corporate deductibility at $1 million in total compensation per employee (as seen in the U.S.)
  • eliminating the capital gains inclusion rate loophole
  • eliminating the stock option deduction for large companies (instead of just capping it at $200,000)
  • implementing higher top marginal tax brackets
  • introducing a wealth tax.

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