December 23, 2010
You would think that a former CFL commissioner and team president would be used to having to speak carefully. In the case of Larry Smith (pictured above speaking at a press conference Tuesday), former CFL commissioner and Montreal Alouettes president turned current Conservative senator, you would apparently be wrong. Just two days after being announced as a new senator, Smith made a comment on CBC's Power and Politics with Evan Solomon that he is taking a "dramatic, catastrophic pay cut" to serve the public. That's spawned some hilarious reactions, including this video from the newly-launched savelarrysmith.tumblr.com:
Look, the comments may well be based in fact. Smith's exact salary with the Alouettes isn't known, but it's believed head coach Marc Trestman makes around $400,000. It would seem reasonable that a team president would be making at least close to that much. By contrast, a senator's base salary is $132,300. If we peg Smith's salary around the $400,000 mark, that's a 66 per cent pay cut, which certainly qualifies as "dramatic" (but probably not catastrophic).
That doesn't excuse Smith for complaining about it, though, particularly in those terms. The economy's still rough and there are still a lot of people without jobs. I'm sure they love hearing a senator complain about only making $132,000. That doesn't count the expense accounts and other benefits Smith will undoubtedly get. John Ivison also wrote this summer that 47 of the 104 senators at that time topped up their salaries with paid positions on corporate boards, which added up to $300,000 in some cases. Smith's had a long and diverse business career, so I'm sure he'd be able to get some of those appointments if he wanted to. In fact, it might not even be a pay cut for him at all if he did that. (It's also notable that veteran players often take pay cuts to stay in the CFL, while an executive like Smith is apparently taking one by leaving).
Of course, if Smith (a former publisher of The Montreal Gazette) bothered to read newspapers, he might have figured out that wealthy people complaining about their issues doesn't often sit well with the rest of the world. That's happened over and over again in every arena from sports to politics to business, but the most notable recent example is Tampa Bay Lightning backup goaltender Dan Ellis, who became rather well-known earlier this year after complaining about the 18 per cent escrow rate in the NHL on Twitter and generally opining that Notorious B.I.G.'s famous "Mo Money, Mo Problems" track (warning: includes profanity) should be taken as a factual argument. Much like Smith, Ellis' comments weren't necessarily inaccurate, but they were made in the wrong forum with the wrong context and came across as rather insensitive to those struggling financially; they also drew plenty of heat. #LarrySmithProblems hasn't yet taken off to the level #DanEllisProblems did, but there's still time.
It's also notable that those who don't make the catastrophically low six-figure salary Smith (pictured, right) will now be pulling in had zero say in his current position. His supreme senatorial power derives not from a mandate from the masses, but rather a farcical bureaucratic ceremony. We didn't vote for him, although we may yet have the chance; Smith said Tuesday he plans to step down from the Senate to run in the next federal election. He might want to work on his message control before then, though.
Smith may not be quite as funny as the University of Waterloo economics professor who shares his name, but he's pulled some interesting moves over the years. Of course, he presided over the CFL's disastrous attempt to expand to the U.S. in the 1990s. That resulted in franchises being handed out left, right and centre with little planning and devastating results. It did produce some cool uniforms, though! Granted, the expansion fiasco wasn't all Smith's fault (and it was more generally reflective of the league's financial struggles and desperation for cash injections), but he didn't exactly cover himself in glory during his stint as CFL commissioner. He did a tremendous job as the Alouettes' president, though, and was a crucial part of restoring that franchise to glory. We'll see which career proves more indicative of his political future.