October 20, 2020

BY BRANDY FULTON

Conestoga College’s President John Tibbits is one of the few college executives to speak out about proposed salary increases.

In 2012 there was a freeze put on the salaries of public sector executives. At the time, the 24 publicly funded colleges across Ontario were $1.9 billion in debt after 10 years of declining enrolment, according to Deb Matthews, the minister of advanced education and skills development. So, the provincial government decided to freeze wages for five years.

Now that the freeze is over, some colleges have been proposing wage increases of 30 per cent or more for their presidents, according to a Feb. 2 CBC story. Matthews said the schools need to think of more “modest increases.”

“We’ve asked them to go back to the drawing board,” she said.

The wage increases will add roughly 43 per cent to the lowest salary and up to 25 per cent for the highest paying jobs.

Tibbits, who is paid $410,000 annually and is one of the highest paid college presidents, is eligible for an increase of $35,000 (nine per cent). However, he said he was not going to take it.

Tibbits said the 24 colleges were jointly looking at executive compensation, but five colleges decided to propose higher salary ranges.

“Some of the colleges posted their wages without telling us. We had planned to agree to a modest wage increase,” he said.

At each college, the board of governors sets the maximum salary allowed. Tibbits said board members should look at their community as well as Ontario and Canada as a whole, keeping in mind where the money comes from and the financial situation that the country is in.

“There is a balance between the fact that the government is in rough shape financially, the economy in Canada is uncertain with everything going on in the world, and the average person out there,” he said. “There is a difference between what you think you deserve and the actual reasonable increase.”

The pay increase effects 11 executives at Conestoga.

All 24 colleges are being told by the government to rethink their numbers. The salary increases are a range that will be given to each executive over the years they continue to work. Some of the lower paid executives have been stuck with lower wages over six years, despite having moved up in job positions.

Matthews said the colleges collectively erred in choosing the wrong institutions for salary comparisons. Although Tibbits agrees with the revaluation of colleges’ salaries, the comparison pay is higher than it should be.

“My salary looks like minimum wage in comparison to the hydro company’s $3.8 million,” he said.

Ontario Power Generation currently pays its CEO $1.5 million annually, but says he is eligible for a salary of up to $3.8 million a year.

Some colleges, like Mohawk, claim they need to pay higher salaries to attract and retain top executives. Mohawk had one executive leave during the wage freeze.

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