I’m sorry Mr. Corrigan, but I won’t get fooled again

I know Mike Corrigan, and I really do wish him well. But as I see it he’s got a hell of a challenge on his hands.

I know Mike Corrigan, and I really do wish him well. But as I see it he’s got a hell of a challenge on his hands.

David Hahn leaves BC Ferries on December 31 with his $315,000 annual Christmas present from the BC taxpayer, and Corrigan, one of the platoon of vice-presidents with whom Hahn surrounded himself, will step into his shoes. And now we are promised a period of change – and increased austerity, though the only austerity we’ve so far seen from BC Ferries has been in the service offered to customers.

The first moves have been limiting Corrigan’s compensation to $564,000, not replacing him as chief operating officer for an apparent savings of $600,000, and the elimination of the long-term bonus program for an annual savings of $600,000 annually (though at a short-term cost of about $800,000). That sounds good for political optics. But let’s not shower praise upon BC Ferries. Most changes to date have been made because the province gave the board of directors no choice in the matter. And let’s not forget that in 2003 this same board of directors managed to hire David Hahn – and this is before the herd of VPs – for a little less than $230,000 annually.

Of course David Hahn promptly built a vast executive staff with bloated salaries. I won’t take away the fact that he inherited a geriatric infrastructure – but as Hahn fiddled, BC Ferries fell from a $49.9 million profit in 2006 to a projected $20 million-plus loss this year. He ran the corporate debt load up to an estimated $1.3 billion. At the same time, amidst a withering private sector, 60 per cent of BC Ferries’ employees earned more than $89,000 annually – placing them in the top 5 per cent of Canadian income earners. With Hahn’s arrival in 2003 marketing was cut, and to make up losses in ridership prices were jacked up between 45% and 80% over six years until customers – inevitably – stopped riding the ferries.

All of this came with a delightful new culture of corporate arrogance. Not even an MBA could have made this much of a mess of things.

To reward David Hahn for his lack of even the simplest business sense, the board of directors jacked his compensation from that opening figure to the unbelievable, grotesque total that finally awakened the BC taxpayer.

And then this group of clever individuals – the million-dollar Hahn, his executive team, and his board of directors – had the audacity to point at reduced tourism for reduced capability to operate our provincial ferry system. As ferry dependent communities fear for their future, it becomes increasingly difficult to swallow these lines. British Columbians see BC Ferries as a vital marine highway upon which Vancouver Island and the rest of the coast are utterly dependent. And to most British Columbians it seems as if this vision is not shared by our leadership.

What’s the solution? Should BC Ferries be rolled back into the government? I’m not sure that’s necessary, though it seems strange that the same was done to Tourism BC for no discernible reason. At the same time BC Ferries is far more badly broken than it was when the Campbell government set out to fix it.

The provincial government and the board of directors remain unchanged, and Hahn’s #2 is now in charge. I choose to believe that Mike Corrigan can clean up his inherited mess. I’m optimistic, sure – but not as optimistic as I might have been if you’d taken over five years ago. Because I’m still not seeing any long-term vision, and from where I’m standing it seems to be a case of, “meet the new boss, same as the old

boss.”

And to carry my reference to The Who a little farther, Mr. Corrigan, I won’t get fooled again.

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