05/10/2012 04:12 EDT | Updated 07/10/2012 05:12 EDT

Salaries for top executives at Emera and Nova Scotia Power increase

HALIFAX - Top power company executives in Nova Scotia saw big raises in 2011, prompting scathing criticism from opposition politicians in the provincial legislature Thursday.

Newly released documents show the head of Emera (TSX:EMA), the parent company of Nova Scotia Power, made over $122,000 more in base salary in 2011 than he did the year before.

The private company's website shows president and CEO Chris Huskilson earned $747,115 in salary last year.

But once share options and pension contributions are added, Huskilson's total compensation climbed to $2.99 million last year, slightly up from $2.96 million in 2010.

Emera executive vice-president Nancy Tower took home $1.4 million in total compensation last year, compared to just over $1 million in 2010.

Rob Bennett, president and CEO of Nova Scotia Power, saw his total compensation package rise to $1.15 million last year, up from $934,212 the previous year.

Emera spokeswoman Sasha Irving said the company would not be commenting on the pay packages.

However, the documents say Huskilson's total compensation package was reviewed in relation to "comparable industry counterparts."

They also say Huskilson's base salary increased due to his "superior performance during his tenure."

In Bennett's case, the documents state that Nova Scotia Power delivered increases in earnings year over year under his leadership "contributing $123.5 million to consolidated net income for the year ended Dec. 31, 2011, compared to $119.2 million in 2010."

The pay hikes drew heavy criticism from opposition politicians at the legislature.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said the salary increases are "absolutely offensive" in the face of power rate increase applications that the public is being asked to absorb.

Earlier this week, Nova Scotia Power applied to the province's utility regulator for increases of three per cent in 2013 and in 2014.

"It's time — as we've said and called in this house numerous times — that we force a performance value audit of this company to make sure they are making the tough decisions they have to make before ever coming back and asking Nova Scotians for more money," said McNeil.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie called the salary increases "extremely frustrating."

"At a time when our disposable incomes are going down, to know that not only are our power rates skyrocketing, so are executive salaries, it's going to be a bitter pill to swallow," he said.

Premier Darrell Dexter shied away from criticizing the increases outright, but pointed out that the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board is free to review the salaries as part of any rate application by Nova Scotia Power.

"I think it's important that the administrative costs be kept down and be as reasonable as possible," he said.