Toronto Pan American Games CEO Saad Rafi earned more money last year than Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne or Prime Minister Stephen Harper – but he says a public official's worth shouldn't be judged by their pay.
Mr. Rafi's taxpayer-funded salary was $438,718.52 in 2014, according to the Sunshine List of Ontario government employees. Ms. Wynne earned less than half that, taking in $208,974. Mr. Rafi also received $10,095.96 in benefits, compared to $411.30 for Ms. Wynne.
Mr. Harper, meanwhile, has an annual salary of $334,800 – about 27 per cent lower than Mr. Rafi's.
"I'm sorry you judge worth by income," Mr. Rafi said when he was asked about his compensation by The Globe and Mail's editorial board. "But what I'm more sorry about is that we pay our teachers, our police officers, our politicians, our prime minister, our premier and others, our mayor, what we pay them. I think there's a story to write. As opposed to why an investment banker makes seven figures with 100-per-cent bonus, or why I make what I make."
Former premier David Peterson, chair of the Pan Am board, said it "isn't fair" that Mr. Rafi's salary is questioned. He also suggested that Ms. Wynne should be paid more.
"You could pick up the case that the Premier needs more money. Somebody should do that," he said.
The Premier's salary, along with those of all MPPs, has been frozen since 2009 as a gesture of spending restraint in a cash-strapped province. Queen's Park has repeatedly called for teachers and other frontline government employees to accept frugal labour deals as the province tries to dig its way out of an $8.5-billion deficit.
Mr. Rafi, however, received a raise last year. In 2013, in his previous job as deputy minister of health – the top civil servant overseeing the province's largest department – Mr. Rafi earned $427,552. That pay jumped by more than $11,000 after he took over Toronto 2015, the committee running the Games in Toronto and area this summer.
According to documents obtained by the Toronto Star through a Freedom of Information request, Mr. Rafi will also be paid severance after he leaves Pan Am equivalent to his annual salary, even though he is listed as a deputy minister on secondment. This means he could be in line for another high-level government job once he is done at Pan Am. The Star said Pan Am refused to grant the paper an interview with Mr. Rafi to discuss his compensation.
Pan Am's price tag, including the salaries of top executives, has come under repeated criticism from the Progressive Conservative and NDP opposition in the legislature.
Mr. Rafi called questions about his pay "unfortunate."
"It's unfortunate that there's some measure that says it should be two times something because somebody else said that, and now you've patterned that into something that is a bit of reality, or a measure of worth. So I think that's unfortunate," he said.
Mr. Peterson pointed out that Mr. Rafi's salary is lower than that of his predecessor, Ian Troop. Mr. Peterson fired Mr. Troop in 2013, which cost taxpayers more than $500,000 in severance. Mr. Peterson suggested Mr. Rafi's pay was commensurate with what he made as a deputy minister, and with what is expected for a Games executive. He also pointed to money Mr. Rafi has saved by dismissing two other Pan Am executives.
"[Mr. Rafi's salary] is $100,000 less than the last guy was making, who I got rid of," Mr. Peterson said. "These are competitive salaries for people who run these kinds of sports. By every standard, he bears up to scrutiny. I think your question isn't fair."
Mr. Peterson also pointed out that, in his role of board chair, he does not himself receive a salary.
"By the way, I get paid nothing," he said. "Write that down."