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
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.