Friday, December 8, 2006

The costs of doing public business

Tom Parkinson, ex-CEO of Hydro OneAnother top-level political appointment resigns amid allegations of expense-account improprieties and is immediately awarded severance. Only days after the Ontario auditor general's annual report indicted the Hydro One chief executive officer of fraudulent expense-account practises, Hydro One's board of directors today "decided to honour the severance provisions" in Tom Parkinson's contract, the very same day that he resigned. Not incidentally, this is the same board that appointed Parkinson and was found by the auditor general to be in breach of its obligation to review Parkinson's expenses.

Energy Minister Dwight Duncan, responsible for electing the board as the sole shareholder of the corporation, commented "that it is in all probability the least costly resolution under these circumstances," apparently alluding to the precedent of an expensive wrongful dismissal suit. But Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty earlier disavowed the possibility that Parkinson would be fired for the very same reason, leaving the question: to what other "costly" resolutions is Duncan referring? The cost to taxpayers of a lawsuit brought by Parkinson to retrieve his severance?

As preposterous as that sounds, that — or, for that matter, a successful settlement down the road for Parkinson — wouldn't come as an altogether surprise to very many observers, as unspoken as that observation might be in polite company. Severances or lawsuits… these are just the costs of maintaining the containment of mutual incriminations among a collegiate of arbitrary privileges and exemptions in which only secrecy and exposure are the yardsticks of success and failure. Whether the costs are dispensed the easy way or the hard way is only a matter of political calculation of the momentary disposition of the taxpayers who must bear the financial costs either way; what matters is that must be as little political cost as possible. This is to what Duncan is really referring; the skirt around the truth results in the typically awkward and inscrutable soundbite. Just as with David Dingwall last year, Duncan finds it more politically economical to dampen interest with a quick and readily forgotten conclusion than to strike a potentially hazardous populist pose… especially when he's already spent his populist currency on the subject. From 2004:

Ontario's publicly owned Hydro One utility continues to pick up the high-priced golf tab for its top executives, Sun Media has learned. Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation confirm that three of the electricity transmission company's executives have enjoyed the Prestige class of membership from a prominent chain of courses called ClubLink for three years. The memberships required a $50,000 initiation fee, according to a company official. ClubLink's top courses also charge more than $4,000 in annual dues, according to the company website.

The news brought immediate criticism from Energy Minister Dwight Duncan's office, which blamed the former Tory government for allowing such frills. "Our government isn't in the business of supporting these perks," said Duncan spokesperson Vanessa Torrance. "It will be a different story under our watch." [Emphasis added]
Wait, there's more coming and going around:
Hydro One president and CEO Tom Parkinson (whose salary and taxable benefits topped $1 million last year), chief financial officer Ken Hartwick ($760,000) and general counsel Laura Formusa ($346,000) first received the golf memberships in 2002, according to a company report.
Formusa has also been named Hydro One's acting president and chief executive officer after Parkinson's departure.
Duncan acknowledged that he and Premier Dalton McGuinty have discussed "the need for a culture of change."
How likely is that, if the discussion doesn't begin right with the owners?


Al said...

I was going to say that the crime seems to not be in the "doing", but rather in the "getting caught". But even that no longer is the case since getting caught seems to siply snare you a large severence. So here is the deal; If you are thinking of quitting, or have a better job offer, steal the government blind. Not wanting the publicity, they will quickly move you out with a large cash contribution. Nice.

Honey Pot said...

and a 3 million dollar buy out. We truly are a nation of mornons.

Anonymous said...

Too true Al I was at a seminar on the weekend.

People were upset that as part of adscam people caught had to pay 1/2 the money.

It's rotten,