We're only a couple of weeks into the 2023 Major League Baseball season, but federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh just whiffed on the fattest political pitch of his career.
After news of Loblaw CEO Galen Weston Jr.’s pay raise hit the media — framed by the consultants his family’s business hired as him being “underpaid” — Singh tweeted: “Every cent of Greedy Galen's 55% raise deserves to be taxed. And, then given back to you, your family, and foodbanks throughout Canada.”
He then directed followers to sign a petition, the preferred strategy of both his party and the Conservative Party of Canada on almost every issue these days. There’s just one problem: every penny of Weston Jr.’s raise is already taxed. If he means it should be taxed at 100 per cent, then that would have to apply to everyone earning a salary above a certain level, since we obviously don’t single individual people out for different tax treatment. And as University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe noted, that would probably have the effect of actually reducing overall government tax revenues.
But if Singh’s proposed solution was off target, his anger certainly wasn’t. It’s hard to believe that someone whose company employs as many public relations experts as Weston Jr. could be so impossibly tone-deaf, but either he’s not listening to them or they’re not telling him the truth. Accepting a 55 per cent raise as the CEO of a grocery company right as the country is in the midst of a national conversation about whether corporate greed is driving food price inflation is an invitation to outrage, and it’s one Canadians should indulge in en masse.
Worse, his pay hike is a direct result of the elevated prices Canadians paid for groceries last year. “Seventy per cent of Loblaws annual performance bonus is based on sales and earnings goals,” according to a Globe and Mail report. “The company’s results resulted in maximum payouts of 200 per cent of the bonus targets.”
Weston Jr. is no mere corporate CEO, either. Sure, his $8.4-million pay package isn’t the highest in the country, and it’s not really all that close. But as the son of privilege, who inherited his position and standing among Canada’s elite, and the literal spokesperson for Loblaws, he’s the perfect avatar for corporate and capitalist greed. Why he would engage in this sort of deliberate provocation is anyone’s guess, but mine is that he’s too cloistered and blinkered to see the error of his ways.
Sure, his family business paid some consultants to pretend this pay raise is somehow justified. The results of their review “suggested that Mr. Weston’s total direct compensation was below the market median and Weston’s and Loblaws compensation policy objectives,” the company’s proxy stated. They made that determination by comparing his pay to other corporate executives — who, in turn, now get to use his pay as a benchmark for their own raises. If there’s a more obvious racket in Canada right now, I’m hard-pressed to imagine what it could be.
This should be easy pickings for the NDP. But instead of making a meal of it, Singh used it to volunteer his own economic illiteracy — and turned an easy win into an own goal. Canada needs a left-wing party that can make a compelling case for a renewed economic order, one in which an executive’s pay is more tightly and transparently linked to that of their average employee. And after two federal elections in which he’s won 24 and then 25 seats — both a far cry from the 44 seats Tom Mulcair won in 2015, never mind the high-water mark of 103 set by Jack Layton in 2011 — it should be clear Singh isn’t the leader to make that happen.
Daniel Blaikie, the three-term MP for Elmwood-Transcona, just might be. His recent speech in the House of Commons on the role of disappearing federal support for social housing went viral on social media, and no wonder — it perfectly captured the frustration so many young Canadians feel with both Liberal inaction on the housing file and the simplistic solutions being proposed by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.
Galen Weston Jr.'s massive pay raise was an affront and an embarrassment. So how did NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh manage to turn it into a demonstration of his own shortcomings as leader? @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver
Blaikie, who is the son of former NDP MP Bill Blaikie, may not have leadership aspirations. And Canada may not need, or want, another political scion at the head of a national party — much less another straight white man. But the federal NDP should be preparing for life after its supply-and-confidence agreement with the Trudeau Liberals — and life after Jagmeet Singh.
If they ever want to be more than a junior partner in future coalitions, they’ll have to start connecting more with Canadians on bread-and-butter economic issues. Blaikie’s housing sermon, and the way it resonated with so many people, would be a good place to start.
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