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Editor’s Letter: My salary? None of your business

When it comes to the incomes of public figures, everyone wants to know, and no one wants to say

Editor’s Letter: My salary? None of your business
Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth

Ooh, juicy! Can’t wait to read it but will respectfully decline.” We got a lot of that in our outreach for this month’s cover story, “Who Earns What.” It wasn’t surprising. And by “it,” I mean the three-act play of ripe intrigue, cheerful encouragement and door-slamming no. When it comes to salaries in this city, the sentiment is consistent: everyone wants to know and no one wants to say. In that sense, consider our nine-page compendium of eye-popping earnings something of a public service.

We went about the research in three steps. In some cases, our lead reporter, Anthony Milton, began by taking the courageously direct (if utterly gauche) route of phoning and emailing subjects, saying something to the effect of “Hello, notable person! How much are you pulling in these days?” Chastened but undaunted, he next dug into the Sunshine List and public-company proxies for reliable numbers. After that, it was a matter of working inside sources and gathering informed estimates followed by another awkward email: “Here’s our best guess. Care to confirm or deny?”

It’s a time-consuming but proven formula. We took the same approach 13 years ago, when we last compiled a city-wide salary survey. Those were the early days of the Rob Ford mayoralty (annual salary: $167,700), when the biggest-name Leaf, Dion Phaneuf, made $6.6 million per year; the charter bank CEOs each pulled in roughly $10.5 million; and Drake, still pre-megastardom, made a paltry $3.8 million.

In the years since, plenty has changed. Mayor Olivia Chow earns $225,304. The highest-paid Leaf is Auston Matthews, who pulls in nearly $23 million per year. David McKay, the CEO of RBC, makes $15 million. And our best math puts Drake’s annual earnings at close to $70 million.

My favourite features at Toronto Life are riveting reads built on big ideas, and this piece certainly qualifies. At a glance, it’s all boldface names and big numbers, but below the surface lie searing insights about power, the economy and the way wealth is distributed in 2024.

Editor’s Letter: My salary? None of your business

The most glaring of those takeaways is the swelling of the one per cent, who have accrued an increasingly bigger slice of the financial pie. There are now 18 billionaires in Toronto. One noteworthy addition is new Torontonian Tobias Lütke, the founder of Shopify, who earns a $1 salary but is worth $7.4 billion.

One stratum down, the filthy rich are doing just fine too. The term “centi­millionaire” has entered the lexicon, de­noting those affluent people who are not to be lumped in with mere millionaires but don’t hang with the b-crowd either. In Toronto, that club now has 192 members.

Meanwhile, at street level, the cost of living has surged and wages lag woefully behind inflation. Average workers of every collar hue are feeling the pinch. Is it so surprising that Metro grocery store workers went on strike for 33 days last summer? Or that the TTC rank and file keep threatening to walk off the job? Or that part-time AGO staff who earn a pittance took to the picket lines protesting, among other things, the $404,004 salary of their CEO?

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Placing these storylines alongside mammoth earnings is provocative and probably uncomfortable. People in positions to change the status quo, like Doug Ford, surely don’t appreciate the glare of this particular spotlight. At the same time, his government recently passed legislation requiring job postings to state salary ranges, a long-overdue development. Really, we’re only following his lead.


Malcolm Johnston is the editor of Toronto Life. He can be reached via email at editor@torontolife.com.

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