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Colby Armstrong, a third-line NHL forward with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (DAN RIEDLHUBER/DAN RIEDLHUBER/REUTERS)
Colby Armstrong, a third-line NHL forward with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (DAN RIEDLHUBER/DAN RIEDLHUBER/REUTERS)

Economy Lab

Where the puck stops: NHL players out-earn CEOs Add to ...

Mike Moffatt is a chemical industry consultant and economist at the Richard Ivey School of Business and is on Twitter @MikePMoffatt





Earlier this week, Nycole Turmel, interim leader of the NDP, proposed capping raises on private sector CEOs, questioning how they can make so much money.



How much do Canadian CEOs and managers make anyway? I decided to look at the data. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has helpfully compiled a list of the pay levels of the Top 100 CEOs and managers in Canada. The pay (including bonus, shares, options and pension) ranges from $24-million a year for Aaron Regent of Barrick Gold Corp. to just under $3-million a year for Michael Waites of Finning International Inc.

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To put these numbers in perspective, I went to capgeek.com and examined the salaries of the 50 highest paid NHL players. The list shows that 49 players make more than $6-million a year (the 50th, Miikka Kiprusoff, makes exactly $6-million). On the list of CEOs and managers, there are 47 individuals making more than $6-million.



There are more NHL players making more than $6-million a year than there are Canadian managers or CEOs. James Wisnieski, a very good defenseman with the Columbus Blue Jackets, makes $6-million a year. George Cope, CEO of BCE Inc., runs a $15-billion a year organization with more than 50 000 employees and made $4.7-million last year. Robert Dutton, CEO of RONA, is responsible for one of the biggest retailers in Canada with nearly 52,000 employees. Mr. Dutton earned just under $3.2-million last year, roughly the same as third-line NHL forwards Niklas Hagman of the Calgary Flames and Colby Armstrong of the Toronto Maple Leafs.



The implication Ms. Turmel is making is that these enormous salaries come at the expense of the lower level employees of their organizations. However, if we could somehow force Mr. Dutton to work for free and distributed his salary evenly among Rona employees, they would only take home an extra $62 per year. Chris MacDonald considered the question of whether this can be good value for the employees. The entire question, however, is fundamentally flawed. Mr. Dutton's salary is not causing RONA workers to be paid less, in the same way that Calgary paying Jarome Iginla millions does not mean the beer vendor at Flames games gets less money.



Are these CEOs worth it? That's ultimately a question for company shareholders, but it is easy to see how they could be. If Mr. Cope at BCE increases their revenue by only an additional 1 per cent next year, that would bring in an extra $150-million to the company. Not a bad deal for $4.7-million in pay. If you do not believe a CEO can have this kind of impact on revenues, think of Steve Jobs at Apple. Alternatively, think of Steve Hastings at Netflix, whose decisions this year has cost the company billions. A CEO's decisions can make or cost a company billions per year. It is important to have the right person in charge.



A number of commentators have suggested that CEOs should take a pay cut because they caused the financial crisis. Only the most paranoid of conspiracy theorists could believe that the guy who runs Canadian Tire or Maple Leaf Foods is somehow responsible for the situation on Wall Street. The U.S. financial crisis had nothing to do with Canadian mining companies, Canadian retailers or even Canadian banks. Reducing Canadian CEO pay on the grounds of guilt by association makes as much sense as the Springfield Police Department charging New York Yankees player Steve Sax for every unsolved crime in New York.



Ms. Turmel's proposal is a solution looking for a problem and wholly without merit. Let's hope that the NDP's next policy suggestion to tackle the very real problem of income inequality is more constructive.



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