Chief executive Mayo Schmidt, whom Ford promised to fire during the June 7 election campaign over his $6.2 million annual compensation, is taking “retirement” with a $400,000 lump sum, Hydro One said Wednesday.
The payment is in lieu of postretirement benefits and allowances from the transmission company partially privatized by the previous Liberal government.
“I’m happy to say we kept our promise. The CEO and the board of Hydro One, they’re done, they’re gone,” a beaming Ford said in a hastily called news conference outside his second-floor office after the stock market closed.
“The severance was zero … absolutely zero.”
The new premier would not say how Schmidt, entitled to $10.7 million in severance if the board was replaced under “change in control” provisions, was persuaded to leave the plum job with much less.
“You’ll have to ask the CEO that, you’re gonna have to ask the board that,” he told reporters.
Schmidt was not available for comment.
“We believe that the agreement we have reached with the Province of Ontario, which provides for an orderly transition … is in the best interests of Hydro One,” said chairman David Denison.
The Star reported on Tuesday that action was looming on Hydro One. “Dealing with the Hydro One situation is very much a priority going forward and stay tuned for details,” said Government House Leader Todd Smith, who did not hint at a timeline.
Ford said the dramatic move is part of his push to “turn this province around when it comes to hydro rates” but critics have noted executive salaries at Hydro One account for pennies on monthly bills for consumers
The new premier has promised to pass on the province’s dividends from Hydro One shares to ratepayers, shaving 12 per cent off their monthly electricity costs, and said he will take action on “terrible” deals reached by the previous Liberal government for solar and wind power above market rates.
The opposition New Democrats raised concerns about how the agreement was reached with Schmidt and the board, whose members will resign by August 15 and take a retroactive pay cut to last year’s levels.
“Doug Ford needs to tell people what kind of backroom deal he worked out with Mayo Schmidt to get him to walk away, and if he’s going to replace the board with his own high-priced insiders,” said MPP Peter Tabuns, his party’s energy critic.
During the election, Ford promised to use the government’s power to replace the board and get the new members to oust Schmidt, with the premier-to-be using the CEO’s salary as a lightning rod for voters fed up with rising electricity prices under the Liberals.
Ford had promised in mid-April that firing the board and replacing Schmidt would be his “first act” in government, although it did not quite work out that way.
Critics have warned the premier’s focus on Schmidt would send a chill through the corporate sector and impact recruitment for his successor.
Schmidt will be temporarily replaced by Hydro One’s chief financial officer, Paul Dobson, until a new CEO can be hired by the incoming board, which will be downsized to 10 members from 14.
Hydro One said it will consult with the government on the salary for a new chief executive.
Ford said the company will be “setting a new mentality” with a different board and CEO.
Energy Minister Greg Rickford, who ducked reporters earlier in the day, said in a statement that the government will soon introduce legislation to “improve transparency and accountability” at Hydro One, where Schmidt’s salary soared after about half the government’s shares were sold off.
“We will pay a key role in appointing the new board, and will expect it to act in the public’s interest,” Rickford said.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, the MPP for Guelph, said public sector executive salaries should be no more than double the premier’s salary of just under $210,000.
“We need to cap those so we don’t have this situation again going forward.”
Hydro One shares closed at $20.17 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, up 7 cents on the day. The stock has traded between $23.35 and $18.93 in the last 52 weeks.