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Severance for ex-Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. boss to remain private: minister

Former Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. (NLC) president and CEO Steve Winter.
Former Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. (NLC) president and CEO Steve Winter. - The Telegram

Only contract on record for ousted NLC president Steve Winter dated back more than a decade

Finance Minister Tom Osborne says the provincial government won’t be telling anyone how much was paid out to ousted Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC) president and CEO Steve Winter, who was fired without cause on Jan. 5.

The minister spoke with The Telegram Tuesday, to respond directly to questions being posed about Winter’s severance, including the amount, and how it was calculated.

“We can’t speak to that,” Osborne said, when asked for the amount paid. “There are privacy issues. I don’t think government ever provides the details of those amounts.”

As for how the payment was determined, it requires a little more background.

The contract

The Department of Finance does not have a contract for Winter on file.

Over at the NLC, the most recent contract on record is still dated to expire in 2007. The document was amended only once over the course of the last decade, in 2005, to write Winter into the public-sector pension plan, awarding him related benefits. He began to make relevant payments to that plan then, in addition to paying into the Canada Pension Plan, employment insurance and the group health and life insurance available to NLC employees.

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However, the update did not edit or remove the contract’s stated termination date, or remove references to that end date in terms of calculating severance, should Winter be fired.

The contract states he would have received a payout of his salary as it would have been paid, had he not been terminated without cause and instead continued on to the end of his contract, at the end of 2007.

In December 2008, a cabinet order approved Winter’s continued employment as head of the NLC, but there was no end date for his employment stipulated in that renewal order. And, based on responses from Osborne and to access to information requests made by The Telegram to both the Department of Finance and NLC, it appears a new contract specific to Winter — with updated language — was never drawn up.

The approach

The Telegram requested clarification from both the NLC and provincial Finance on the severance and what governed any payout to Winter.

“We consulted internal legal counsel and the amount paid was based on those consultations. In making the decision, legal counsel had provided us advice as to the nature and relationship of the employment, and the final decision was based on that analysis,” Osborne said.

He said Winter received what would have been standard for senior executives at the NLC.

“It was just based on what he would be entitled to under the law,” he added.

“I guess the only thing that I can say is based on the fact his employment was extended without an end date, we looked to the Department of Justice and legal counsel to make that determination,” he said. “The NLC policies for their senior executive is what was followed and, for severance, the same policies as would be followed for the provincial government.”

The minister said Winter, who had been at the helm of the NLC since his original appointment in 2004, was paid both severance and an amount for dismissal in lieu of notice.

Osborne said he made it clear he wanted an appropriate pay out — all of what Winter was entitled to under the law, “no more, no less” — and not a case where the long-time executive was unfairly compensated.

“In discussing this and then consulting with internal legal counsel, I’ve been advised that everything is done appropriately,” he said.

Winter was fired on Jan. 5, with Sharon Sparkes being hired to take over as president and CEO on an interim basis.

Osborne said he has had discussions and received briefings from the Crown corporation since, including updates on the progress towards the legalization of recreational cannabis and attrition planning.

“I can say I am pleased with the progress that’s being made,” he said.

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