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Caisse’s Sabia lambastes Barrick exec pay package

Michael Sabia, the head of Quebec's biggest pension fund, says even if Jesus Christ was offered a nearly $12-million US signing bonus to join Barrick Gold's (ABX-T) board -- as was the gold miner's co-chair John Thornton - he would have voted against the pay package.

"If Jesus Christ himself had been appointed co-chairman of the board and was offered that package we would have voted against it. And I say that as a Catholic who goes to church."

Barrick faced opposition from seven major Canadian pension funds, including Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, for the $11.9-million signing bonus it paid Thornton. It was part of a $17-million packet given to the former Goldman Sachs executive in 2012. The world's largest gold miner paid the package just before it announced a multibillion-dollar cost overrun at its Pascua-Lama gold project in Chile.

Sabia, CEO of the Caisse, tells BNN it is up to the board to heed the wishes of shareholders.

"I guess we'll find out whether the Barrick board is tone deaf or whether or not they are going to listen to the voice of the people who own that company," Sabia tells BNN from the sidelines of the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles. [Click here to watch more interviews from the Milken Conference.]

At Barrick's annual meeting last week investors voted against a resolution on executive compensation in a largely symbolic gesture.

"The Barrick board of directors takes the shareholder vote seriously, and will carefully consider our shareholders' perspectives regarding executive compensation," chief executive officer Jamie Sokalsky said after the vote.

Founder Peter Munk defended the Thornton pay package at the annual meeting saying he "had unique abilities and was willing to put his shoulder to the wheel."

Munk also said he convinced the board that the payment to Thornton "was the right thing for Barrick."

Barrick did not give further details of the non-binding vote, but is a symbolic pushback from shareholders who have seen the stock price sliced by more than half in the past year.

With files from The Globe and Mail's Pav Jordan CTV Two CTV News CTV News Channel BNN - Business News Network CP24