POLITICS

Liberals Avoid Question Whether $1M Salary For Amit Chakma Is Appropriate

03/30/2015 02:40 EDT | Updated 05/30/2015 05:59 EDT
CP
TORONTO - Liberal cabinet ministers refused to say Monday whether they think it was appropriate for a university president to be paid nearly $1 million because he didn't take a sabbatical.

The so-called sunshine list of public sector employees paid over $100,000 last year revealed that Western University president Amit Chakma was paid $967,000 — double his normal salary, because he worked through a scheduled one-year leave.

Chakma has signed a new five-year contract that will also allow him the option of a one-year leave or double pay in 2019.

Having Chakma work through the one-year leave benefited the university with continuity of leadership at a critical time, said the chair of Western's board of governors, Chirag Shah.

"It's not dissimilar to a vacation entitlement at the end of the day," he said. "I'm sure that if you had the circumstances where you had to work through a vacation you have an entitlement for that payment."

More than 1,700 people, including faculty members, have signed an online petition calling on university senators to bring a non-confidence motion against Chakma next month.

"Excessive executive compensation of this magnitude is simply unacceptable in the public sector," wrote law professor Samuel Trosow. "This is especially so given the belt-tightening, cutbacks and general austerity facing so many in the university community."

Shah said under Chakma's leadership the university board of governors is "quite pleased" with Chakma's leadership.

"So we hope we're able to manage through the appropriate communications with our campus so they're fully aware of the stature of leader that we do have on campus," he said.

London-West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler asked in question period Monday whether the government would prohibit university boards of governors from negotiating similar double payouts to university presidents.

"With the university cutting staff and increasing class sizes, this double payout is a slap in the face to Western students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community," she said.

Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Reza Moridi noted that a bill was passed last year that allows for caps on broader public sector executive compensation. In the meantime, he said, executives are expected to follow a public sector wage freeze.

Chakma's base salary has been frozen since 2009 and continues with no incremental increases in the new contract, Shah said.

Deb Matthews, president of the Treasury Board, said the government is in the process of developing those caps on a sector-by-sector basis, though she couldn't say when those would be made public. She would not say what she thinks of Chakma's double salary.

"I'm not going to comment on any individual person on the sunshine list other than to say we know that there's a problem with executive compensation and that's why we're taking the steps we are," she said.

"We're looking at all compensation, not just the salary."

Neither Finance Minister Charles Sousa nor Moridi would say whether they thought Chakma's 2014 compensation was appropriate.

The president and CEO of the University of Toronto's asset management corporation was paid $939,000, which Moridi said included performance bonuses.

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