Appeared in the North Shore News – July 22, 2011
David Hahn has a handsome salary, a fabulous pension, and plummeting respect on Main Street and possibly asea.
For the next two years B.C. Ferries’ chief executive officer may be working in a hostile public environment, his own staff and officers quietly mutinying against his ample emolument – $1.2 million a year in salary and benefits, his $314,000 pension starting in 2013 more than six times the average family income.
Premier Christy Clark, wring hands, wring hands, a large cheese in an earlier regime that vengefully and illegally tore up hospital workers’ and teachers’ contracts (political payoffs, true, shamelessly sneaked in by a dying New Democrat government), pleads helplessness in breaking Hahn’s. Thus keeping her heart in the right place and Hahn in the corporate wheelhouse.
The ever-exciting and entertainingly excitable columnist and broadcaster Mike Smyth instantly advised Clark to fire the entire BCF board of directors responsible for Hahn’s perceived obese contract, a draconian punishment that would elude some now-departed members including former Liberal minister Geoff Plant and former NDP premier Dan Miller. (Directors are paid $48,000 a year plus financial brownie points for extra meetings, not too shabby a deal either.) Revenge, as the man said, is best eaten cold. Smyth’s would be hot, publicly enjoyable but fixing nothing.
The narrative: Unable to find a competent CEO in these rude backwoods, the government reached down to New York City for a top executive to run the Byzantine public quasi-monopoly ferry system, so indispensable to the economy of this oceanic province that devout freeenterpriser W.A.C. Bennett socialistically put it together some 60 years ago.
Ignoring any unpleasant historical precedent that may spring to the minds of the learned, Hahn made the ferries run on time. He expensively updated the fleet, stickhandled a scandalous marine disaster, and must be credited with instituting the top-value breakfast buffet on some vessels, strongly endorsed by the staggeringly stuffed undersigned (free advt.).
I’ve admired the cut of Hahn’s jib. He’s done well. Which is why I generously offer this advice gratis as possible relief from the current thumbscrews.
First, Hahn’s million-plus salary for running a billiondollar enterprise is outrageous only to citizens writhing with envy of anyone with a higher income than their own, a natural and deplorable human instinct and example of Dr. Johnson’s observation that envy is the only one of the Seven Deadly Sins that can be exercised at any time and in any place.
A glance at the annual reports of my own modest holdings reveals that $1.2 million is piffle in many private companies, where devices like stock options are institutionalized rip-offs of innocent shareholders. If you seek capitalist piggishness, check Frank Stronach.
Moving on, what gets up the noses of much of the citizenry is that double-dip pension.
As all the world knows, the original pension was $77,000. Then, alarmed by the intelligence that Hahn was being headhunted – a rumour that any selfrespecting career-climber would blandly allow to circulate, if not vigorously spread himself – BCF’s board of directors pressed upon Hahn a second pension of $237,000, as journalist Smyth dug out. Total, $314,000, give or take some measly hundreds. That’s $1,000 a day for a six-day week of golf or other retirement diversion (sailing, maybe?).
So the free counsel here is: Waive, as in wave goodbye to, the $77,000 contract, Mr. Hahn. You won’t seriously miss it. Unless you have an extremely sharp-pencilled accountant, a sizeable portion will be disappear anyway into taxes that help fund your golden years.
Some cranks will grumble that giving up the 77 grand would be a mere gesture. Well, let us not underestimate gestures, the pretty froth and bubble on public and political life that indispensably disguise what is really going on.
Even if Hahn disavowed all material things, donated his wealth to good works, donned a loincloth and took holy orders, the insatiably envious would never be sated. It is their nature. Forget them. Those who know the human and especially their own heart know well that, in Hahn’s shoes, they would not behave better, possibly worse.
When one has lived too long and witnessed one forgotten cause célèbre after another – and lived off the avails as paid public scold and pose-striker – one knows that this too will pass away.
. . .
Speaking of B.C. Ferries, Gary Bannerman was an expert.
Deep in print, I rarely heard him in his fireworks CKNW days, and we finally met only last year – he seated at the Keg with great caricaturist and mischievous elfin Kerry Waghorn, tipple well under way. Gary was in fine form, the two wittily mocking my pious sips of nonalcoholic beer – Waghorn firing the parting shot at my temporary abstemiousness: “Don’t worry, we’ll bring you back.”
© Trevor Lautens, 2011