FORD OUT­LINES THE ‘FIRST ACT’

Premier’s vow dur­ing cam­paign to fire Hy­dro One CEO slips on to-do list that tar­gets York strike, cap-and-trade, wind tur­bines

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - ROB FER­GU­SON

Promised three months ago as the “first act” of a Doug Ford gov­ern­ment, the fir­ing of Hy­dro One boss Mayo Schmidt — whom the new premier dubbed the “$6 mil­lion man” — has fallen down the pri­or­ity list.

“We are work­ing on that is­sue right now,” Gov­ern­ment House Leader Todd Smith said Tues­day in out­lin­ing the new Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive ad­min­is­tra­tion’s aims as the leg­is­la­ture is re­called for a cou­ple of weeks.

Smith, the party’s en­ergy critic in op­po­si­tion, ac­knowl­edged the new PC gov­ern­ment has not been able to make good on the prom­ise while it dealt with other mat­ters, such as ax­ing the Green On­tario Fund that helped con­sumers save money on smart ther­mostats and en­ergy-ef­fi­cient win­dows.

“While it might not be the first on the list of things that we’ve ac­com­plished we did get down to work right away and we’ve ac­com­plished a num­ber of things,” he added.

“Deal­ing with the Hy­dro One si­t­u­a­tion is very much a pri­or­ity go­ing for­ward and stay tuned for de­tails.”

The plan to fire Sch­midt­was crit­i­cized by rivals as cam­paign slo­ga­neer­ing that would do noth­ing to lower elec­tric­ity costs and prove ex­pen­sive to boot — with Schmidt get­ting a golden para­chute of up to $10.7 mil­lion if fired with­out cause by a new board of di­rec­tors ap­pointed by the gov­ern­ment.

“You can take this to the bank. The CEO is gone and the board is gone,” Ford, who has not held a news con­fer­ence since his swear­ing-in al­most two weeks ago, said on April 12.

But within a few weeks of his land­mark June 7 elec­tion vic­tory, the party be­gan sur­vey­ing vot­ers by text: “Hi, this is So­phie from the On­tario PC Party. Do you agree that Premier Ford should fire the $6 Mil­lion CEO of Hy­dro One? Please Re­ply: #Yes #No #Un­sure.” NDP MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Dan­forth) said he sus­pects the new gov­ern­ment has found the prom­ise was easy to make but is harder to de­liver.

“We said at the time this was go­ing to be pretty com­pli­cated, that there were go­ing to be big ex­penses in­volved,” Tabuns said, not­ing Ford re­peat­edly dou­bled down on the prom­ise in ef­forts to make Schmidt’s an­nual salary a light­ning rod for dis­con­tent over hy­dro rates in a quest for votes.

“He con­tin­ued on, putting on a lot of hot air, a lot of blus­ter about how he’s go­ing to get rid of the CEO,” he added.

“This is an area where their mouths went way ahead of their brains and now they’re deal­ing with the con­se­quences. I think that it’s go­ing to be prob­lem­atic for them.”

Schmidt, who is still on the job, earned $6.2 mil­lion in to­tal com­pen­sa­tion last year at Hy­dro One, which was par­tially pri­va­tized by the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral gov­ern­ment to raise $9 bil­lion for in­fras­truc­ture projects and low­er­ing debt in the elec­tric­ity sec­tor.

Ford blamed de­feated premier Kath­leen Wynne for bloated pay­cheques in the pub­lic sec­tor and vowed “we need to start re­spect­ing the tax­pay­ers,” but nei­ther he nor Smith could an­swer how much their promised Hy­dro One house­keep­ing would cost.

How­ever, the com­pany’s most re­cent se­cu­ri­ties fil­ings said us­ing the gov­ern­ment’s pow­ers to fire the board would con­sti­tute a “change of con­trol” in Hy­dro One and en­ti­tle Schmidt to a $10.7 mil­lion pay­out un­der a “dou­ble trig­ger” pro­vi­sion if he were fired with­out cause by the new board.

Should the ex­ist­ing board dis­miss Schmidt with­out cause, he would get a $5.04 mil­lion sev­er­ance.

SAB­RINA BYRNES/METROLAND

“You can take this to the bank,” Doug Ford said of Hy­dro One dur­ing the cam­paign. “The CEO is gone.”

Hy­dro One CEO Mayo Schmidt, who earned $6.2 mil­lion last year, was a fre­quent tar­get of Doug Ford.

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