Doug ForD rains on HyDro OnE pay paraDE
They say it never rains but it pours.
They say it because it’s true. Outside the Hydro One annual general meeting in downtown Toronto Tuesday, it was actually raining.
The Progressive Conservative candidate for premier, Doug Ford, and a handful of supporters (and one protester) with their signs, stood in it, sometimes chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Mayo’s gotta go.”
Inside the lobby of the Ted Rogers School of Management, where the AGM was being held and where said Mayo — Mayo Schmidt, Hydro One CEO and the guy Ford calls “the $6-million man” because he earned $6.2 million in salary and bonuses last year — various handlers looked on.
It was pouring in here, too. It was a deluge of horse manure and its cousin, magnificent selfaggrandization.
The AGM was open to the press, with each reporter, it appeared, assigned a handler, who accompanied them to a registration desk and then to a room where we could hear, but not see, the AGM. Several handlers stayed in the room. It felt curiously nostalgic, like being part of the 1972 Team Canada in the old Soviet Union.
Anyway, if Hydro One runs its business like it ran that AGM, Schmidt et al should have their salary immediately doubled. That was some well-oiled machine. The meeting was over, complete with question period, in 57 minutes.
Board chairman David Denison presided. First, the 14 board members were elected, or rather, re-elected; they were first appointed by the Ontario government in 2015, when Hydro One was taken private.
Just this week, an information circular for the AGM mentioned that the directors had voted to give themselves a $25,000-a-year raise, bringing their annual compensation for the part-time jobs to $185,000 and Denison’s own, as chair, to $330,000.
“Any questions from shareholders on the election of board members?” Denison asked and then, pausing a hair of a second, answered himself. “Seeing none,” the matter was closed.
Ditto the appointment, or rather re-appointment, of the external auditors. “Any questions from shareholders” on that matter, Denison asked, and again, “Seeing none …”
Ditto the “Say on Pay advisory vote on executive compensation.”
Denison then pronounced that the board believes the compensation paid to Schmidt et al is “appropriate” and asked if the shareholders accepted the board’s “approach to executive compensation,” or if there were questions.
“Seeing none,” he moved on, noting that the province of Ontario, Hydro One’s largest shareholder, had abstained from the vote.
That’s because, earlier this spring, the board agreed to “review” executive and board compensation, and in a quid pro quo, the government decided to abstain.
In any case, the formal part of the meeting lasted 20 minutes.
Then came the question period, wherein Schmidt made the traditional acknowledgment of being on traditional Indigenous territories, gave a brief summary of his philosophy (“I’m no stranger to hard work”), properly sang the praises of the frontline workers who do the treacherous stuff in terrible weather, and threw out some of the astonishing array of numbers he keeps in his head.
His only reference to the howls for that head — Ford wants him and the board fired, Andrea Horwath’s NDP wants to buy the utility back and put it in public hands again — was a brief remark about “political uncertainty in an election year.”
Sounding not unlike Kathleen Wynne, he described Hydro One’s executive compensation as “stretch targets,” meaning that wages for top executives like him are tied to short- and long-term performance goals. If Schmidt et al don’t meet their various incentive goals, they earn only their salaries.
There were, by my reckoning, four questions from the floor. (I assume there was a floor and actual shareholders present; reporters got only audio, not visuals.)
Two were from First Nation shareholders. They didn’t ask actual questions, but stood to praise Schmidt.
The third asked for examples of how Hydro One had reduced costs; Schmidt gave her a couple, including how, by studying idling in their fleet, they’d been able to reduce it by 1,000 vehicles.
The fourth shareholder, a man, also praised Schmidt, then asked him to consider, heaven forbid, that “the leading candidate” to form the next government is “committed to the termination of the CEO and the board. My question is, what can you do, should you do, what can we do” to contain “that horrible idea.”
Schmidt professed his passion for the job and said “we really do believe and feel that calmer heads will prevail,” adding a bit later that, “we don’t get involved in politics day to day … the activities around the political environment will quiet themselves after June 7.”
Schmidt and Denison then came to the press room for a bit of a scrum.
Led by a ferocious young woman who asked tough questions
rat-tat-tat, they pronounced themselves “focused entirely on operational excellence.”
Asked if he’d take a pay cut or resign, Schmidt said, “It isn’t about pay cuts.” The hellion reporter snapped, “Of course it is.” He then reminded the motley press that they are committed to “building this high-performing champion,” that Hydro One has reduced costs by 31 per cent, and “turned the power back on for the desperate people.”
I wondered who had turned it off in the first place — surely Hydro One? — but then the two were ushered off to their board meeting by handlers.
Somewhere between the rain and “Mayo’s gotta go” chants outside, and the supremely selfpleased inside, there must be a happy medium. But, seeing none, I move on.
Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford joined protesters Tuesday outside Hydro One’s AGM in Toronto.