Premier Christy Clark says a backroom deal to provide a generous financial parachute to any MLA who might be fired by their voters through British Columbia’s recall law “doesn’t make sense.”
Opposition house leader John Horgan agreed Thursday, saying that an NDP government would scrap the bailout package.
It is just the latest in a series of embarrassments for the secretive committee that decides how MLAs spend public money for their legislative duties. In the past, decisions such as MLA pay, pensions and other perks were quietly negotiated between the parties at the Legislative Assembly Management Committee.
Public furor over such deals have, over time, opened up the process. Last summer, the committee began to hold its meetings in public, in response to a scathing report by the Auditor General John Doyle. Mr. Doyle found “significant deficiencies” in basic management at the legislature so severe that he was unable to conclude his audit of the $63-million-per-year expenditures. The agreement, which was struck while efforts to recall B.C. Liberals were under way in February, 2011, only came to light this week, buried in an annual report. Neither Ms. Clark and Mr. Horgan were on the committee at that time, but their respective parties were represented and agreed to the policy. It extends up to 15 months’ severance to an MLA who is forced out of office through recall.
Premier Clark was sympathetic to taxpayers when asked by reporters about the recall severance package on Thursday: “It does sure sound like a lot of money if someone is recalled. I think a lot of people, in a tough economy, would look at that and say they don’t get it – and I am one of those people.”
Mr. Horgan also told reporters the deal wouldn’t resonate with taxpayers. “If an MLA is recalled, one doesn’t usually get compensated on their way out the door.”
No MLA has successfully been recalled in B.C. but the committee took on the matter just weeks after multiple recall efforts were launched against B.C. Liberal MLAs as part of the “Fight HST” campaign. The organizers sought to pressure the B.C. Liberal government to abandon the harmonized sales tax by seeking to pick off its most vulnerable MLAs.
NDP MLA Shane Simpson, representing the New Democrats on LAMC, said the committee’s intent was to provide support for MLAs who were dumped from office because of a policy decision by government, rather than over personal misconduct.
“That was the discussion,” he said. The record of that meeting, which is simply a one-paragraph summary, does not reveal any such nuance. “I’m not sure there was actually a vote,” Mr. Simpson said.
The allowance gives MLAs up to 15 months’ pay, based on their base salary, which works out to as much as $127,000. MLAs who either choose not to seek re-election, or who lose their seat, are eligible.
B.C. Liberal MLA Bill Barisoff, Speaker of the House, headed the meeting. He told reporters Thursday that such a distinction ought to have been part of the discussion.
In hindsight, Mr. Barisoff said, the policy should only be applied on a case-by-case basis. “There are cases in point where if [a recall] happened to be for a criminal act, you wouldn’t think it would be a good use of taxpayers’ money to have a transitional allowance.”
He defended the allowance in general, which is available to MLAs who lose their seat in an election, because it can be difficult for them to find work after serving as an elected official.
Mr. Horgan agreed that the allowance, following defeat in an election, is reasonable. “When [MLAs] leave politics, quite often they have difficulty finding work,” he said. “You get branded as being only good for talking and not much else.”