Invest NB ponders performance bonuses for staff

Invest NB's two senior officials raised the idea of paying senior staff at the Crown corporation performance bonuses if they lure jobs to the province during a legislative committee hearing on Wednesday.

CEO Robert MacLeod says Crown corporation is like a 'sales team'

Premier David Alward created Invest NB in 2011 and gave it a mandate to lure outside investment to the province. The Crown corporation is considering awarding its staff performance bonuses.

The Crown corporation created by the Alward government to generate jobs in New Brunswick may soon start handing out performance bonuses for employees.

Denis Losier, the chairman of Invest NB, and Robert MacLeod, the president and chief executive officer of the economic development agency, appeared in front of the legislature’s Standing Committee on Crown Corporations on Wednesday where the discussion turned to employee compensation.

The economic development agency's objective is to attract outside investment to the province. The Invest NB employees who try to lure investors to New Brunswick have salaries in the $80,000 range.

Losier told the committee of MLAs he thinks those civil servants should get bonuses when they successfully reel in a big investor.

"People will achieve a lot more when they have the chance to achieve success and get money," he said.

Losier, who served as a Liberal cabinet minister from 1989 to 1994 before taking over as president of Assumption Life in 1994, said he understands the optics of handing out taxpayer-funded bonuses in tough economic times.

"In the difficult economic circumstances we're living, it's not easy to put in place an incentive program that the people of New Brunswick will understand," he said.

"But if we're going to get jobs in New Brunswick, if we're going to have people working hard at attaining the objectives, the targets we've set, we will have to look at a system like that."

The decision on awarding staff performance bonuses will be made in the next year, Losier told the committee of MLAs.

Bonuses for public-sector employees, such as NB Power executives, have been controversial in the past.

David Hay, the former president of NB Power, had his bonus criticized by the Progressive Conservatives when they were in opposition in 2009. Hay’s salary was $375,000 and he earned a $96,000 bonus.

Invest NB is a 'sales team'

Robert MacLeod ran unsuccessfully against David Alward for the PC Party's leadership in 2008. MacLeod was later named president of Invest NB. (CBC)

But MacLeod said he treats the new agency like a business and he said financial incentives are commonplace in similar private sector organizations.

"Invest New Brunswick is essentially a sales team, and it's the very nature of sales, and it's proven process that sales people are bonused," he said.

If Invest NB goes ahead with it, one Liberal MLA said the opposition will support the move as long as it comes with one commitment.

Dieppe Centre-Lewisville Liberal MLA Roger Melanson said the bonuses should only be paid when jobs are actually created.

"The incentive portion would have to be based on actual results. If you don't get results, you don't get it," he said.

Invest NB says the provision raised by Melanson is fine. The executives say the agency already measures its success based on the amount of tax revenue generated by the jobs it attracts, not vague spinoffs.

The NDP, however, are coming out against the idea of bonuses for Invest NB staff.

NDP Leader Dominic Cardy said civil servants should not expect to receive payment on top of their salaries.

"Civil servants should be working for the public interest, not for bonuses. On a day when Invest NB is explaining why its investment in Thing5 went bad and a week before a catastrophic provincial budget asking for more tax money to support a Tory vanity project is unacceptable," Cardy said in a statement.

"Invest NB needs to tell the public how many outside businesses it has attracted to New Brunswick, how many jobs have been created, and how much the new agency has cost the province."

Invest NB was a key election promise by Premier David Alward’s Progressive Conservatives in the 2010 provincial election.

The provincial government created the agency in 2011 and named MacLeod, a former leadership rival of Alward’s and a campaign advisor, as its first chief executive officer.