Painful Truth: Greed fuels our leadership class

Question: If someone is getting a really nice salary, six figures, but they hold out for more money, are they greedy?

You might say yes.

You might say that it’s complicated, and economic factors and high costs of living and getting the best candidate for the job and tough tasks and blah blah blah excuse me while I go throw up.

This week we got two brilliant examples of how power and greed go hand in hand, and how everyone in a position of power just signs off on it.

First, we found out that Dr. Max Coppes was given an extra $75,000 a year in money taken straight out of charitable donations to boost his salary as head of the B.C. Cancer Agency. His salary was already $561,000 a year, by the way. It was the former head of the Provincial Health Services Authority who asked for the boost.

The whole point of the B.C. Cancer Foundation is to raise money to buy equipment and to pay for cancer research. It is not so that some senior executive can upgrade to the better grade of champagne to fill his jacuzzi.

Coppes’ sickening greed is particularly alarming for a pediatric oncologist, someone who should know the difference an extra several hundred thousand dollars can make when it comes to buying hospital equipment.

Meanwhile, Amrik Virk, our minister of advanced education, is in trouble because of more emails coming to light, showing that he was in on the scheme to “top up” the salary of senior staffers at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, while Virk was serving on the board.

In 2011, Virk wrote that an extra $20,000 “research allowance” was a good way to get around government pay caps for an incoming KPU vice-president.

The VP, Anne Lavack, would eventually get a salary of $170,000 her single year at KPU, plus $50,000 for moving expenses, the $20,000 research payment, and $50,000 for a “pre-employment” consulting contract.

Let’s see, who else is staggeringly overpaid around here?

TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis made $468,015 in 2013. That would seem fair, if buses magically flew through the skies on pink pixie wings, carrying each of us individually to our destinations. Michael Corrigan, CEO of BC Ferries is doing better, making $563,000 in exchange for raising rates while reducing service. 

Ah, but I can hear the whinging apologists approaching, shuffling forward to grovel before the powerful. 

“These jobs require special skills, leadership abilities, charisma, experience! It’s hard to find people who can do them well, and they must be attracted with fitting compensation!”

But… but they don’t do their jobs well! They are often incompetent, disliked, and wasteful.

Coppes is gone, having essentially been run out of town amid increasing patient wait times and morale problems in the agency. TransLink and BC Ferries? If half a million gets us this level of service, do we have to pony up $10 million to get something worthwhile?

The same thing happens in private enterprise, of course, where CEOs regularly produce massive layoffs, inefficient mergers, or bankruptcies while lining their own pockets. The same people often switch from public to private, CEO to president, from the boardrooms of for-profits to non-profits to government consulting work.

It’s a system of, by, and for the powerful, where those signing off on the salaries expect to be the ones getting them someday. It’s based on greed. It’s based on entitlement. 

It’s based on the idea that the people in charge are better than the rest of us.

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