Senior executives of some of Canada’s largest companies saw their total pay increase by an average of 17 per cent, or $171,000, in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The CCPA tracked the compensation of 1,096 senior executives, including those in the C-suite, using filings from 209 publicly traded companies on the S&P/TSX composite index. The report found that, although many executives saw their base salaries cut in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, more than half (52 per cent) of those who experienced salary cuts saw their total pay increase in 2020 compared to 2019. Bonuses for executives more than made up for the decline in salaries even as the pandemic took a toll on the bottom line of many Canadian households and businesses.

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“[Last year] was . . . terrible . . . for most Canadians,” said David Macdonald, the CCPA’s senior economist and report co-author, in a press release. “Half of everyone making at or near minimum wage lost their job or work hours in the early months. In contrast, top executives had a banner year, with soaring bonuses driven by a booming stock market or just plain changing the rules.”

According to the report, 49 companies changed their own compensation rules to boost their executives’ pay, including awarding direct pandemic bonuses, simulating a year without the pandemic and awarding bonuses based on that hypothetical, altering the performance measures bonuses were previously based on and changing the timeframes for bonus calculations to limit the pandemic’s impact.

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