Executives at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board are facing uncomfortable questions on bonuses after a year in which they incurred record losses.

After announcing a -18.62% loss for the year 2008, it was revealed this week that five top officers at the pension fund are eligible for more than $15 million in bonuses, prompting angry calls for change by Opposition MPs.

“The CPP board is supposed to protect the savings of Canadians,” said NDP leader Jack Layton. We have the Prime Minister essentially endorsing $17 million of Canadians’s money going into the pockets of executives who just lost $24 billion. How can that make any sense whatsoever?”

The CPP did make an attempt to head off the criticism by cutting total compensation for top execs by 31%, eliminating the personal performance portion of the bonuses, but it was not enough to assuage the Opposition.

“Will the Minister invite the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board to review their multimillion-dollar bonuses in the context of a recession that’s killing the jobs of 350,000 ordinary Canadians?” asked Liberal MP Ralph Goodale.

The CPPIB annual bonus structure is not calculated based on annual returns, but on a rolling four-year average of the fund’s performance, explained Bob Astley, CPPIB chairman, in a conference call on Thursday with reporters. “The compensation paid to our team this year properly reflects the value created over the past four years, as well as the obvious challenges faced by the CPP fund and all investors indeed in the fiscal 2009.”

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has made it clear that the government has no intention of interfering with the pension plan.

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