Doug ForD rains on Hy­Dro OnE pay pa­raDE

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD

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.

AARON VIN­CENT ELKAIM/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

On­tario PC Leader Doug Ford joined pro­test­ers Tues­day out­side Hy­dro One’s AGM in Toronto.

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