London-West MPP Peggy Sattler introduced a private member's bill Wednesday that would amend the Broader Public Sector Executive Compensation Act. It follows a revelation last week that Amit Chakma was paid nearly $1 million last year — double his normal salary — because he worked through a scheduled one-year leave.
The double pay has received considerable criticism at the university and beyond after Chakma was revealed as one of the province's top public-sector earners in the annual sunshine list of public salaries over $100,000.
Chakma announced Wednesday that he would refund the payment he received in lieu of taking a sabbatical, amounting to nearly half a million dollars. The same clause allowing for a double payout if he forgoes a sabbatical is also in Chakma's new contract, but he says he will also give up that payment in 2019.
Sattler said her bill is not just about Chakma.
"The bill is about the systemic problem of boards of governors being allowed to make these kinds of contractual arrangements with senior administrators using public dollars and revenues that are generated from student tuition," she said.
"No other Ontario citizen has a job where they get offered twice their salary to not go on leave, where they are given two paycheques for doing one job."
Western University's board of governors has hired former judge Stephen Goudge to review the president's compensation practices.
Alison Hearn, president of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association said university administrations are out of step with the rising tuition fees and student debt loads.
"Dr. Chakma's huge salary illustrates more than just an over-entitled, tone-deaf president," she said. "It represents more than an ill-informed board of governors comprised of business leaders with no working knowledge of the university. It's a potent symbol of the wrongheaded priorities that universities are now adopting in the age of austerity."
Deb Matthews, deputy premier and president of the Treasury Board, said a new law allows for caps on broader public sector executive compensation and the government is in the process of developing those caps on a sector-by-sector basis.
"We're looking not just at salary but the benefits, all of the elements that go into compensation," she said. "So it's kind of ironic that she's calling for an amendment to legislation and we've already incorporated that issue and far, far more into the legislation."
Matthews said she was pleased to hear Chakma returned the extra pay.
More than 5,600 people, including faculty members, have signed an online petition calling on university senators to bring a non-confidence motion against Chakma next week.
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