What we could do for the price of John Risley’s yacht

Quick now. How many Nova Scotians — earning Canada’s average industrial wage of $58,800 a year — could be hired for one full year for the reported asking price of John Risley’s one new, never-even sailed US$350-million luxury yacht?

Don’t even bother with the currency conversion.

If you guessed 5,992 with a little left over to hire a few summer students at more than a typically generous hourly wage, you probably used the same computer calculator I did.

Since you did so well on that question, let’s try another.

Last week, Nova Scotia’s minimum wage review committee recommended that the province’s minimum wage — currently set at $13.60, the second lowest in the entire country — be increased to $15 on October 1.

The Houston government said it will… think about it.

“We thank the committee for its important work as the minimum wage rate impacts Nova Scotians in every region of the province,” said Jill Balser, Minister of Labour, Skills and Immigration.

“As we decide on the path forward, it’s important that we take a balanced approach and consider the impacts to employers and employees, particularly as all Nova Scotians and businesses continue to deal with the rising cost of living and inflation.”

Perhaps Balser could just ask John Risley — estimated net worth $1.2 billion — to help out.

Currently, around 32,000 Nova Scotians earn the $13.60 minimum wage. With his $350 million available for discretionary spending, Risley could afford to fully fund more than a third of them — 11,218 — at $31,200 per year. That’s how much a person working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks — no vacation at all, this is the real world — would earn at the $15 minimum wage.

Or perhaps Risley could direct his $350 million to help top up Nova Scotia’s current minimum wage by $9.90 an hour to match the latest calculation for a living wage in Halifax, which is $23.50 an hour.

The possibilities are endless.

But it’s also probably fair to suggest we can’t depend on the generosity of the rich to solve our income problems. Well, more than fair…

Last week — the first week of January 2023 — was the week in which Canada’s 100 highest-paid CEOs “earned” what it will take the average Canadian worker all of 2023 to make.  

Actually, those CEOs didn’t even need a full week to eclipse the yearly earnings of ordinary workers. If we’d started the compensation clock ticking on Monday morning, January 2 at 9 am, in fact, the first lapped-those-working-stiffs alarm would have been triggered just over 24 hours later at 9:43 a.m. on Tuesday.

No wonder the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which compiles such information, calls its latest report on CEO pay, Breakfast of Champions:

Canada’s 100 highest-paid CEOs broke every compensation record on the books in 2021…

Total income? Record-shattering. Disparity between worker pay and CEO-pay? Historic. Amount of CEO pay tied directly to inflation-juicing corporate profits? Unprecedented…

Those 100 CEOs, who are overwhelmingly male, got paid an average of $14.3 million in 2021, smashing the previous record of $11.8 million in 2018 and setting a new all-time high in our data series. They now make 243 times more than the average worker wage in Canada, up considerably from the previous high of 227 times the average worker wage in 2018.

Uh, wait a minute… that sounds like inflation to me. Isn’t inflation awful for the economy, worse for all of us? Doesn’t the Bank of Canada keep raising interest rates just to save us from our spendthrift ways? To keep us from wasting our money on expensive frivols like food and shelter and fuel?

Well, responds the CCPA’s report, yes but…

While inflation hurts workers, it’s great for corporate profit that have hit historic highs. When profits go up, executive bonuses are driven way up. In 2021, variable compensation (bonuses) made up 83 per cent of the best-paid CEOs’ total compensation, up considerably from 69 per cent in 2008. 

“We think of inflation as bad for everyone, but for CEOs it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Historically high profits based on historically high inflation mean historically high bonuses for CEOs,” [CCPA senior economist David] Macdonald says. “When times are bad, like during the pandemic, CEO bonus formulas are altered to protect them; in good times, like 2021, the champagne never runs dry.

Although “soaring CEO pay” is currently going unchecked, the CCPA argues there are“policy solutions governments can use “to address this rampant income inequality between the rich and the rest of us.”

It’s all about the taxes, stupid. Still. Always.

The CCPA calls for four specific tax changes:

  • Limiting corporate deductibility of compensation over $1 million 
  • Closing the capital gains inclusion rate loophole, used almost exclusively by the rich
  • Implementing higher top marginal tax brackets
  • Introducing a wealth tax

Will Ottawa pay any attention? Don’t bet on it.

There’s still that war on inflation they need to win. For us…


Meanwhile, back at the yacht brokers.

According to the business website, allnovascotia.com, reports in German media suggest Risley sold his 107-metre superyacht IceCap — “the 63rd largest superyacht on the planet,” custom-built with 10 guest cabins, including four for VIPs, a helicopter pad, teak decks, a dance floor, steam room, elevator, beauty salon, and and and — to a Ukrainian-American billionaire just weeks before it was scheduled to be delivered.

The buyer, Len Blavatnik, a former Soviet oligarch who got rich from the privatization of state assets following the break up of the Soviet Union, has apparently already renamed it Shackelton.

Risley declined to comment to allnovascotia, “citing a confidentiality agreement.”

Risley had earlier claimed he needed such a large vessel because “his sailboats and other yachts” couldn’t reach rugged, remote destinations such as the coast of Greenland.

And so it goes. Canada 2023. Pity.


A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner

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  1. We need a maximum wage of $500,000. Per year should be set. Any salary over $500000. Should be taxed at 65% this will pay for the minimum wage of $20.00 per hr.


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