British Columbia's Crown-owned electricity company has replaced its president and chief executive officer – a shift that comes as the province's new NDP government prepares to place BC Hydro's signature project, the $8.8-billion Site C dam, under fresh scrutiny.
BC Hydro announced Friday that its board of directors had "consolidated" leadership by firing Jessica McDonald, who had been president and CEO for the past three years.
Ms. McDonald was a former deputy minister to then-Liberal premier Gordon Campbell from 2005 to 2009. She previously held various government jobs under both NDP and Liberal governments.
The new president is Chris O'Riley. Mr. O'Riley had been the deputy chief executive officer of BC Hydro since 2015 and a member of its executive team since 2007. He has been employed by BC Hydro since 1990.
Hydro confirmed his appointment is permanent.
A BC Hydro spokesperson said Mr. O'Riley was not available for comment on Friday's developments.
Ken Peterson, appointed board chair on Thursday, will be the new chief executive of BC Hydro, the utility said in a terse statement in which the board expressed "sincere gratitude" to Ms. McDonald for her "exemplary leadership" at BC Hydro.
Ms. McDonald had been a vocal advocate for the Site C dam, which was a major priority for the previous Liberal government. As the NDP took power this week, after promising to review and potentially kill the Site C project, Ms. McDonald's future was immediately in doubt.
Ms. McDonald's salary was almost $362,000 for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which increased to about $528,000 when combined with benefits and pension.
BC Hydro did not provide any information on possible severance.
The NDP government is preparing to send the Site C project, which is already under construction along the Peace River, to the B.C. Utilities Commission for a review on its viability. The new government is working on terms of reference for the review.
The New Democrats have promised a quick six-week review of the Site C project, though the party has said construction won't be stopped in the meantime. Their partners in a power-sharing agreement, the third-place Greens, want the project cancelled altogether.
The New Democrats have also called for a freeze on electricity rates.
Mr. Peterson, the new board chair, replaces Brad Bennett. Mr. Bennett is the son of ex-premier Bill Bennett and grandson of former premier W.A.C. Bennett, and he worked closely with former premier Christy Clark in the last two provincial elections held in 2013 and this spring.
Earlier this week, Carole James, British Columbia's new Finance Minister, was non-committal about Ms. McDonald's professional fate, saying it was a matter for the board to decide.
On Friday, the province's new Energy Minister, Michelle Mungall, was not immediately available for a telephone interview.
Rich Coleman, the former deputy premier and a former deputy minister, said on Friday that he was not surprised by the leadership change.
"They're changing everybody – anybody who may have worked for our government," Mr. Coleman said. "At least they have gone inside corporation with someone that has a long history with hydro and knows the business."
Mr. Coleman said Mr. O'Riley, based on his experience, is "brilliant" and would have topped his list as a prospective replacement.
On Friday, government spokeswoman Stephanie Sherlock said 133 people have been fired from service as part of the transition from a BC Liberal government. The total cost of severance has been $11.3-million.
Ms. Sherlock said that figure compares to the $9-million spent in 2001 for the transition from an NDP government to a BC Liberal government. In 2017 dollars, that would be $12-million, she said.