Fredericton Daily Gleaner
January 13, 2001
If you think the average annual earnings of $30,000 per year in New Brunswick are too low, you can’t blame NB Power.
The average wage among the Crown corporation’s staff in 1999-2000 was $61,500.
In fact, of those 2,600 employees, only 500 earned less than $40,000 that year and 43 per cent (about 1,060) earned $60,000 or more. Total wages for the year for NB Power came to about $155 million.
Those and other facts, such as that the corporation’s 12-member management team earns a combined $1.5 million annually, are contained in the provincial government’s Public Accounts books, which include NB Power this year.
The corporation’s current debt stands at more than $3 billion and the long-awaited release of the province’s energy policy is expected within weeks.
That policy, which has been approved by cabinet, may shed some light on how the province intends to deal with the issue of power generation in the future.
It also may indicate whether government intends to take back some control of the Crown corporation, which currently operates at arm’s length from government.
Although taxpayers and electrical users pay for the corporation and its labour costs, government has no control over the wages paid to NB Power employees, including executive members such as president James Hankinson, who earned $248,000 for the 1999-2000 fiscal year.
That was the same year for which Statistics Canada reports that men in New Brunswick employed full-time had average earnings of $36,890 while women employed full-time earned $25,735.
NB Power salaries are set by the corporation’s board of directors, who are appointed by the provincial cabinet but who do not answer directly to government.
Energy Minister Jeannot Volpe said he has seen the figures and believes NB Power should remain competitive to attract qualified workers.
“Usually you’re paying for their knowledge, for their capacity to run the business,” he said, adding the wages might seem high to someone earning only $12,000 or $15,000 a year, but not to people who are earning similar wages to NB Power employees. He also said he believes the wages are comparable to the private sector.
Paul Theriault, vice-president of human resources and administration, said this week that the earnings include overtime payments, vehicle allowances and other compensation. He weighs in at $122,173. And he said the wages paid by NB Power are reasonable when compared to all other industries in Atlantic Canada.
“They’re in the 50th percentile,” Theriault said, explaining thatmeans among all Atlantic Canadian industries there are 50 per cent who pay more than NB Power and 50 per cent who pay less.
The comparisons are made to all other industries, Theriault said, because that’s where NB Power must find its skilled workers or keep its employees from leaving and moving to those industries in search of better pay and benefits.
As for the Crown corporation’s senior executives, Theriault said their salaries are “well below that 50th percentile,” meaning most industries are paying their senior management more than NB Power.
Theriault also explained that of the 85 NB Power employees who earned more than $100,000 in 1999-2000, 16 are senior management personnel who have a base annual salary of $100,000.
The remainder are among staff at the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station where highly-skilled and specialized staff often earn a lot of overtime when the plant experiences a shutdown and work to bring it back on-line must proceed as quickly as possible.
Theriault said federal regulations insist on employees at nuclear stations having minimum levels of expertise in order to meet plant licensing regulations.
Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe, the power industry watchdog group based in Ontario, confirmed that average earnings for public power companies tend to be higher than some might expect.
“This is normal in the crazy world of Canadian Crown-owned monopolies,” Adams said, adding it is typical for such corporations to have high average earnings but relatively low senior executive wages compared to more junior staff.
Adams recollected that when Ontario Hydro was disbanded a few years ago, the president was earning about half a million dollars annually, while the average earning for all employees was about $80,000 per year.
In defence of what might seem like high costs for labour at NB Power, Theriault said the corporation has trimmed about 300 from its payroll in recent years.