Federal government quietly awards wage increases to top officials

Ottawa  - The federal government has awarded raises of 2.5% to top government executives and deputy ministers along with 3% increases to the heads of crown corporations.

The increases were not announced officially by the new Conservative government, which made accountability to voters a hallmark of its election campaign last January.

Instead, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet quietly approved the pay hikes behind the scenes - in the summer doldrums - obviously hoping to keep political flak to a minimum.

The raises are retroactive to April 1 and are exclusive of lucrative annual bonuses awarded to most executives and deputies.

In the case of CEOs of crown corporations such as the CBC and Canada Post, the value of the raises (and bonuses) rivals the total amount that a minimum wage earner would earn in an entire year.

The pay range for crown corporation heads is $109,000 to $445,600 a year. The range for senior executives is $94,000 to $178,700. For deputy ministers it is $170,000 to 288,400.

A 3% raise for a crown corporation CEO earning the top rate of $445,600 a year works out to an additional $13,368 a year.

By comparison, the top minimum wage in Canada, $8.50 an hour in Nunavut, equals $17,680 a year for a 40-hour week. The lowest minimum wage rate, $6.75 in Newfoundland, equals a mere $14,040 a year for a 40-hour week.

For senior government executives, the total extra pay they will receive this year significantly exceeds the total income of minimum wage earners in Canada because they also get sizable performance bonuses of 3% to 5% a year.

Thus, a deputy minister paid at the current top rate of $288,400 will pocket an additional $21,630, thanks to a combined 2.5% basic and a 5% annual bonus.

Minimum wage increases are set by the provinces in Canada. They are always miniscule (often about 25 cents an hour) and they are never retroactive, nor do governments ever grant a minimum wage bonus to anyone.

The federal government could take the lead in forcing the current regime of minimum wage rates upward toward subsistence pay levels in Canada. But it has chosen to do the opposite.

Tired of being criticized for its refusal to set an example, Ottawa has now resolved the problem by setting no minimum wage rate at all for workers in federal jurisdiction.

Instead, it has decreed that the minimum wage for workers in federal jurisdiction should be whatever the prevailing provincial rate happens to be in a given area.

The main reason cited for the latest raises at the top in Ottawa is to prevent senior government executives from jumping to even more lucrative positions in the private sector.

This is the same private sector that benefits most from low minimum wage rates and howls loudest when even those low rates are raised.