Bombardier execs should slash their bonuses – not defer them


Bombardier has been experiencing a serious backlash since it became known last week that compensation to chairman Pierre Beaudoin and five senior executives soared to more than $32 million last year, a considerable step up from $21 million in 2015.

On their own, removed from current circumstances, those bonuses are impressive and somewhere in the realm of the kind of compensation that most of us “little people” and those who work in Bombardier plants will never see in our entire lifetimes. But following directly after years of brutal layoffs and corporate welfare amounting to billions of dollars, it’s created a public backlash the likes we haven’t seen in a while. And a justifiable one.

Following a protest that saw close to 200 people gather outside of their Montreal HQ, Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare asked the company’s board to defer over half of $32 million in compensation to top executives until 2020. If the company fails to meet its performance goals, they won’t get their bonuses at all.

This decision has been met in predictable fashion by Quebec’s key players. Premier Philippe Couillard claims to be satisfied with the decision. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a neutral statement acknowledging the sometimes-difficult reality of a publicly owned company retaining independent financial control. “We respect the free market and the choices that companies will make,” he said. “But we also have a responsibility to ensure that the investments we make with taxpayers’ dollars are leading to good jobs and growth.” The PQ, in the meantime, intends to present a motion at the National Assembly this week demanding that Bombardier’s executives renounce their 2016 compensation increase – not merely defer it. And finally, Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier seeing which way the wind is blowing right now, declared that he’s against corporate subsidies, even though he didn’t seem to have a problem with them when he was part of the Harper administration.

No one is denying that large companies who want to attract the best and the brightest routinely rely on bonuses and hefty compensation packages to woo and retain them. But to the average Quebecer, bonuses are compensation for a job well done, the carrot upper management dangles so middle management works a little harder, a little bit of trickle-down money and a corporate “thank you” when business is booming, the bottom line is healthy, and the prospects are promising. None of that is happening right now at Bombardier, yet the bonuses keep rolling in.

The average worker doesn’t expect (and certainly doesn’t get) a bonus when business is suffering, bad decisions may have been made, or simply when circumstances beyond the company’s control have forced the industry to reassess, restructure, and lay off.

Bombardier slashed thousands and thousands of positions around the world (and right here at home), only to “strategically rehire” workers in countries where labour costs are cheaper. Bombardier then received US$1 billion investment in the CSeries program by the Quebec government and a US$1.5 billion investment in the company’s transportation business by the province’s pension fund, the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec. Another round of layoffs was announced (a total of 14,000 jobs around the world by next year) just before chairman Pierre Beaudoin and five senior executives were to receive more than $32 million in bonuses.

Any which way you frame this, you have to admit the optics here are simply not good.

There is something extremely distasteful about seeing those exorbitant salaries and bonuses of Bombardier’s top management lined up against those corporate bailouts, closely followed by the latest announcements of additional layoffs.

Quebecers are reeling from years of government cutbacks and austerity measures that saw our healthcare services and educational system severely compromised. Watching a for-profit company operating on public funds dole out outrageous bonuses to senior management (to the tune of an increase of nearly 50 percent) during this time is tone-deaf, and dismissive of Quebec taxpayers — particularly when a sizeable chunk of those workers about to be laid off provided the business in question with the tax money to keep it afloat.

Perhaps nothing better describes the anger and betrayal that many Quebecers are feeling right now than this abandoned toilet, covered in perfect franglais,  photographed at the corner of Jean Talon and Boyer this morning.


Photo credit: Catherine Lavoie