EMPLOYEES all over Canada these days feel besieged by the vogue for downsizing, wage cuts and layoffs. But when shareholders at the country's largest financial institution held their general meeting this week in Vancouver, at least one threatened sector ended up breathing a little easier: top bank executives. Bob Verdun, an Ontario newspaper proprietor and financial rebel, tried to convince Royal Bank's shareholders chairman and chief executive officer John Cleghorn could make do with less than his salary last year of C$2.7 million (HK$15.32 million). Mr Verdun proposed limiting the salaries of top bank executives to 20 times that of the average employee. This would have reduced Mr Cleghorn's salary and that of his fellow managers to a mere C$800,000 - a prospect calculated to raise a cheer from non-shareholding bank customers who have been grumbling about service fees for routine transactions. The shareholders present, however, voted the proposal down. Perhaps they were happy enough adding up their own gains following reports Royal Bank had made record profits. As with other big banks in Canada, times have never been so good. Royal Bank's first quarter profit was C$399 million, up 12 per cent on the same period last year. 'I came in at C$32 a share and it's now C$55,' one shareholder said. 'I think that speaks for itself.' They also voted down three more proposals by Mr Verdun to limit the influence of top executives through measures such as disqualifying from the board any business people who provide services to the bank and preventing one person from being both chief executive officer - the management - and chairman of the board, which is supposed to monitor management in the shareholder's interest. All of Mr Verdun's ideas were shot down by hefty margins, but he was upbeat afterwards. He had expected to lose, and vowed that the battle would spread to other banks. He had simply planted the seeds. Sure, the economy needs a healthy banking environment, he allowed. 'But banks that are too powerful aren't good for the economy. How can banks be having a record year when the rest of the economy is in the doldrums?'