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Gerald Butts defends new consul-general Rana Sarkar's salary

In a series of Twitter posts, the Prime Minister’s adviser Gerald Butts says his friend’s pay rate in San Francisco-based role is in line with other diplomatic posts outside government.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's senior aide Gerald Butts took to Twitter to defend the appointment of his friend to a diplomatic post in San Francisco at a pay rate nearly double the official salary scale, arguing his compensation is in line with others the Liberals have recruited from outside the government – and that they took pay cuts to serve their country.

Rana Sarkar, a former Liberal candidate who is close to Mr. Butts, was appointed as Canada's consul-general to San Francisco on Aug. 2. The Liberal cabinet set his salary range at $221,300 to $260,300 for a post classified at a level that carries an official pay range of $119,600 to $140,700.

Opposition politicians called that "cronyism," and said ordinary Canadians won't be impressed by Mr. Butts's assertion that a political appointee took a pay cut to make more than $200,000 in a plum post.

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Read more: Liberal-named consul-general Rana Sarkar to make nearly double office's official salary (subscribers)

On Monday, Mr. Butts argued in a 15-part twitter thread that Mr. Sarkar's pay is in line with three others the Liberals have recruited for diplomatic posts from outside government – but the only one on the list in a comparable position as a consul-general, Phyllis Yaffe, earns significantly less.

Mr. Sarkar's salary range is now higher than that of two former senior Liberal ministers who left Mr. Trudeau's cabinet for diplomatic posts touted as "superambassador" roles.

Former minister of immigration John McCallum, appointed ambassador to China in March, and former foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion, now ambassador to Germany and special envoy to the European Union, are both paid a salary ranging between $214,200 and $252,000. The San Francisco appointment makes Mr. Sarkar one of the highest-paid Canadian diplomats in the foreign service.

Mr. Butts argued on Twitter that the government recruited Mr. Sarkar because he has experience and skills that are an "excellent fit" for a job that notably includes efforts to attract investment from Silicon Valley.

He wrote that Mr. Sarkar and others the Liberals have recruited for diplomatic posts "took substantial reductions in their income to serve their country."

Mr. Butts pointed to three other people Mr. Trudeau's Liberal government has recruited to serve in diplomatic posts: David MacNaughton, former chairman of StrategyCorp and co-chair of Mr. Trudeau's Liberal election campaign in Ontario, as ambassador to the United States; Marc-André Blanchard, former chairman of law firm McCarthy Tétrault and a long-time Liberal who served on Mr. Trudeau's transition team, as ambassador to the United Nations in New York; and Ms. Yaffe, former chief executive officer of Alliance Atlantis Communications and board member of Torstar Corp., as consul-general in New York.

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"Rana Sarkar's salary as CG [consul-general] is completely in line with those other appointments from the private sector," Mr. Butts tweeted.

Mr. MacNaughton and Mr. Blanchard, who hold two of the highest-stature posts in the Canadian foreign service, are both paid a salary between $247,900 and $291,600, a range roughly $30,000 more than Mr. Sarkar's, according to the order-in-council formalizing their appointment.

Ms. Yaffe – who, like Mr. Sarkar, is a consul-general, but at a New York post that is generally viewed as having greater stature – is paid a salary between $153,600 and $180,600 – roughly 70 per cent of Mr. Sarkar's pay range.

Mr. Sarkar is a former president of the Canada India Business Council and more recently was KPMG's national director for high-value markets.

New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen said what will make the larger salary rankle with ordinary Canadians is that the recruit who got it is a Liberal with close ties to the Prime Minister's closest confidante.

"I think there's lots of qualified people who are also not best friends with the Prime Minister's [aide]," Mr. Cullen said. "This seems to be the blind spot with the Liberals. When appointing friends to positions, they just have no ability to see how the general public will perceive friends helping friends."

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Conservative MP Peter Kent said Mr. Sarkar, who ran for the Liberals in the 2011 federal election and unsuccessfully sought the Liberal nomination in 2015, appeared to be willing to accept a Member of Parliament's salary. MPs current earn $172,700 a year. He said political appointments aren't always wrong, but this one smacks of "classical Liberal cronyism."

Mr. Cullen said that Mr. Butts's tweets about Mr. Sarkar taking a pay cut won't play well with ordinary Canadians. The consul-general in San Francisco gets the use of a five-bedroom house and also covers Hawaii, and so travels there regularly, he noted.

"Oh, you poor guy," Mr. Cullen scoffed, quipping that Mr. Butts is making it sound "as if [Mr. Sarkar] were volunteering in a Médecins sans frontières outpost in Sudan."

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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