Local MLA Gary Coons, is effectively saying, “good riddance,” in response to the decision made by BC Ferries CEO, David Hahn, to take an early retirement as part of a larger cost-cutting plan at a corporation which has been hurt by falling passenger rates.
The controversial CEO has been under fire for the past few months after the BC Ferries board awarded him a large pension package that cost around $300,000 a year. In official documents from BC Ferries about the resignation say anything about Hahn’s pension package, but the company was sure to point our that because his resignation was voluntary he is not entitled to severance pay.
The board’s chairman, Donald Hayes, has confirmed that Hahn will now be receiving some kind of reduced pension package. Despite the controversy surrounding Hahn — which includes the revelation that came to light last year that he is the highest paid civil servant in the province – Hayes says that during his 8 years at BC Ferries, Hahn was instrumental in changing the former crown corporation into the company that it is today.
“Under Mr. Hahn’s leadership, BC Ferries has been fundamentally transformed, resulting in improvements in all areas of the company’s business. Seven new ships have been brought into service on-time and on-budget, upgrades have been made at many of our major and minor terminals, and significant improvements have been made in the travel experience for our customers.”
Not everyone thinks that the changes have been an improvement though. Coons, who is the provincial Ferries critic, says that BC Ferries is trying to be a cruise line instead of a ferry service that British Columbians depend on, especially here in the north. Coons has been a long-time critic of the move to make BC Ferries a for-profit enterprise rather than keeping ferries part of the Highway system.
“BC Ferries should never be there to make money, because they will never make money. It’s a public service, its a public highway and that’s the way it should be treated,” says Coons.
BC Ferries isn’t making money though. In fact, the company is forecasting a $20-million deficit this year. Largely, the reason of the shortfall was that this summer’s passenger levels were over three percent lower than expected. The corporation blames the lack of passengers on higher fuel prices keeping people, especially American tourists, at home. Coons and other critics of BC Ferries are blaming it on how expensive the fares for a trip are getting. And fares are set to go even higher starting in 2012.
Whatever the cause of the corporation’s hardship, the board is doing damage control by cutting $11-million. Hahn’s retirement is being touted as part of this cost “containment plan,” but there’s more.
BC Ferries is freezing all hiring for non-essential positions, freezing wages for two years, cutting the an incentive plan for executives, getting rid of discretionary spending, cutting back on consultants and charitable donations, and they are applying to the province to cut 400 trips a year along major routes.
They are even cancelling their sponsorship agreement with the Vancouver Canucks. No one can say how much that will save because how much the contract was worth is not being released.
Coons says that most of the cost cutting measures are “no-brainers.” But accuses Hahn might be leaving before a review by the BC Ferries Commissioner comes out in January. A report Coons believes will not come out in favour of the company.
“I find it very suspicious that just months before the commissioner’s review and just a week before the start of the next legislative session, that David Hahn, instead of staying and following the commissioner’s recommendations, has decided to jump ship,” says Coons.