Oh, to have a generator and power when the lights go out.
Six Halifax Port Authority officials, which based on photographic evidence, recently included HPA’S President and CEO Karen Oldfield (2015 salary $370,000), need not worry. They keep their lights on and houses warm using emergency generators provided by their employer, the Halifax Port Authority.
A generator was photographed January 6 being loaded on an HPA truck at the home of HPA’s President and CEO Karen Oldfield in Halifax and again arriving later the same morning at a Port Authority building in the city’s South End.
Without naming Oldfield directly, HPA spokesman Lane Farguson indicated six employees — including “the Port president and CEO” — have been supplied with the Port Authority equipment and he explained in a Jan. 13 e-mail that, “These employees have been assigned generators at their residences to be used in the event of an emergency.”
However, in e-mail exchanges, he refused to disclose the names or positions of four of the six people, revealing only two of them.
“Currently there are two generators assigned to employees — one to our Director of Engineering and one to our Manager of Safety and Site Logistics. There are four generators in for servicing/maintenance and/or awaiting redeployment.”
Oldfield’s name and position was absent from an email. In a follow-up phone call, however, Farguson said that a generator was removed from “the CEO’s residence” as “it was no longer needed and it is the property of the Port Authority.”
Farguson cited three disasters to justify the policy: Hurricane Juan in 2003, White Juan in 2004, and Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana in 2005.
He didn’t describe what impact either Juan or White Juan had on commercial shipping in Halifax although during Juan, there were a number of incidents around the harbour.
Farguson focused on Hurricane Katrina and wrote that as a result of Katrina, “The Port of New Orleans, a major entry point for steel, rubber and coffee, was closed to commercial shipping traffic for two weeks.”
Even though Halifax and other parts of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island took a thrashing from Juan, it wasn’t even remotely close to the devastation and loss of life suffered in New Orleans, nor was Halifax’s shipping affected to the same extent.
Although he gave no specific date, Farguson explained that several years ago, the HPA developed a risk management strategy in which it was decided that generators would be provided to “…key employees … identified to be available for critical infrastructure repair and business resumption following a major incident.”
“If there is a major event, we want our key employees focusing on the task at hand, and not on their pipes freezing,” he said.
Although there have been, on average, two wide-spread power outages a year in Halifax over the last five years according to Nova Scotia Power, there is no indication that any of them has had an impact on shipping during that time.
Nearly seven years ago, in February 2010, Nova Scotians were infuriated by an Auditor General’s report on MLA expenses that exploded into a scandal that revealed a sense of privileged entitlement. The report led to investigations and ultimately to criminal convictions. Among the many MLA expenses that outraged taxpayers were a couple of generators billed to them by two cabinet ministers.
E-mails from Farguson failed to shed light on the following questions.
• Which employees or executives are to receive the four remaining generators now in for servicing or awaiting redeployment?
• Will one of the generators be returned to the CEO?
• Are generators hard-wired into the homes of individuals to whom they have been assigned?
• What is the cost of the HPA’s employee emergency generator program?
• Is the Halifax Port Authority headquarters building equipped with an emergency generator?
None of those questions were answered. The information is considered secret.
In his e-mail response, Farguson said that “As these are matters relating to personnel, operations and security, I cannot disclose additional details”
The HPA practice of stocking executives’ homes with taxpayer funded generators is not mirrored by the Nova Scotia government for Premier Stephen McNeil or by the Halifax Regional Municipality for Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, two of Nova Scotia’s most senior civic authorities with key responsibilities in major emergencies.
An official in McNeil’s office says that the premier (salary $202,026), does not have a taxpayer-funded generator at his Annapolis Valley home.
A Halifax City spokesman said “If the mayor has a generator at his home, he bought it himself.” Mayor Mike Savage is paid $175,167 annually.
Over the phone, Farguson told the Halifax Examiner that the Port Authority came to the decision to buy generators “after consulting with other port authorities.” However, he could not name which other port authorities were consulted.
But the sharpest contrast with the Halifax Port Authority’s employee-generator plan is from the Port of Montreal, which is no stranger to natural disasters like 1998’s devastating ice storm.
When asked if the Port of Montreal has an emergency generator plan for a specific employees, Melanie Nadeau, the Port Authority’s Director of Communications wrote back, “ No, we don’t have those kind of equipment for that purpose at the Port of Montreal.”
Unless their executives, managers, and staff buy their own generators, when there is a power outage, they shiver in the dark just like the millions of other Montrealers.