Corporate executive pay rose an average of $171K in 2020 despite pandemic: report

Tweaks to bonus pay rules helped protect top executives’ pay
August 18, 2021

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

The study, Boundless Bonuses: Skyrocketing Canadian executive pay during the 2020 pandemic, finds executive pay increased due to soaring bonuses from stock market gains or subtle changes to their bonus pay arrangements—despite the devastating economic effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on many Canadian households and businesses.

“2020 was a terrible year for most Canadians. Half of everyone making at or near minimum wage lost their job or work hours in the early months,” says David Macdonald, CCPA senior economist and report co-author. “In contrast, top executives had a banner year, with soaring bonuses driven by a booming stock market or just plain changing the rules.”

The report tracked the compensation of 1,096 executives, including CEOs and other C-suite executives, using filings from 209 publicly traded companies on the S&P/TSX Composite Index. The study found 49 companies, nearly a quarter of companies on the index, changed their own compensation rules to boost executives’ paycheques.

Companies used four main approaches to boosting bonuses due to COVID-19:

  1. Companies awarded direct COVID-19 bonuses;
  2. Companies simulated a year without COVID-19 and awarded bonuses based on that;
  3. Companies altered the performance measures that bonuses were based on; and
  4. Companies changed the time-frames for bonus calculations to limit COVID-19’s impact.

A full list of companies is in the report.

Many executives saw their salaries cut in the early months of the pandemic. However, the report also finds 52 per cent of executives who experienced salary cuts saw their total pay in 2020 increase, compared to 2019, because bonuses more than made up for decline in salaries.

“If times are good, executives claim to be personally responsible for every penny of additional profits and their bonuses hit the stratosphere. If times are bad, it's all beyond the executives’ control and bonus rules have to be changed in order to protect them,” adds Macdonald.



For interviews please contact: Jolson Lim, CCPA Communications Specialist, at [email protected] or 613-413-0945.


The CCPA is an independent, non-profit charitable research institute founded in 1980.