The Ontario Liberal cabinet approved more than $450,000 in enhanced severance packages for two top staffers in the premier’s office days after the party lost the 2018 election.
Details about the severance paid to former premier Kathleen Wynne’s top aides, Andrew Bevan and Mary Rowe, were released to The Globe and Mail under a Freedom of Information request.
The Globe made the request in May after the provincial list disclosing public salaries showed Mr. Bevan and Ms. Rowe were paid significantly more in 2018 than the year before, despite only working for five months before the Liberals were voted out.
The documents show that Mr. Bevan and Ms. Rowe signed memorandums of agreement with the premier’s office for “enhanced termination payments” less than two weeks before their employment was set to end on June 29, 2018.
Both received lump-sum payments equivalent to 36 weeks, or eight months, of salary; Mr. Bevan got $247,756 while Ms. Rowe received $204,497, minus applicable deductions.
They also remained on the government payroll for an additional 16 weeks until Oct. 19, 2018.
Political staff are entitled by law to 16 weeks’ notice, and an additional week per year after five years of service, plus vacation pay, when there is a change in government. (Mr. Bevan served as Ms. Wynne’s chief of staff and principal secretary for more than two years, and was principal secretary for three years before that. Ms. Rowe, her executive adviser, worked in government for one year and nine months.)
However, there appears to be no formal process for increasing severance after an election loss, something critics say needs to change to ensure fairness and respect for taxpayer dollars.
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser distanced himself from the payouts, saying neither he nor the Ontario Liberal Party were involved in the decisions.
“Reasonable people will think this is an excessive package and want an explanation,” he said.
But Ms. Wynne and Mr. Bevan say the packages are in line with what was previously offered to political staffers from all parties. They say the severance agreements were decided upon by the premier’s office and on the advice of the bureaucracy, and are consistent with other governments and jurisdictions. Both said the ultimate decision was made by the Liberal cabinet, which met for a final time after the election defeat.
“Of course there were proposals brought forward and cabinet made the decision,” Ms. Wynne said.
“But the parameters around the packages were what was important. This didn’t come out of the blue, they were consistent with other governments and consistent with other jurisdictions.”
When asked if she stands by the decision, Ms. Wynne said, “Absolutely, because they were developed with objective criteria.”
Mr. Bevan, who is currently working as a consultant, said that he also elected to take his pension when he left government. He said severance was offered to more than 400 political staff who lost their jobs after the election.
“These recommendations were based on previous practices by governments of all stripes. Termination packages were then decided on by cabinet," he said in an e-mail.
Ms. Rowe did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Bevan made $313,922 in 2017 and earned $552,667 in 2018, according to the Sunshine List, which tallies the salaries of public-sector employees earning more than $100,000. Ms. Rowe was paid $428,161, up from $259,110 in 2017.
Cabinet-office spokesman Craig Sumi did not directly answer when asked if the severance for Mr. Bevan and Ms. Rowe was on par with previous governments.
“Any termination enhancements for political staff are based on an individual’s situation and reflect multiple factors, including the unique nature of political staff work, the availability of alternate work and length of service,” Mr. Sumi said in an e-mail.
“It was a decision of the previous government.”
In order to ensure fairness, there should be a formal process in place, said Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“If you leave it at the discretion of an outgoing government, they have zero incentive to keep the costs down,” Mr. Wudrick said.
“I think the [current Progressive Conservative] government should reform that. At least that way we can debate what the right formula is and if something is appropriate.”
Other senior political staffers have also received tens of thousands of dollars in severance payments in the past.
Steve Pengelly, chief of staff to former PC premier Ernie Eves, made $222,332 in 2003, records show. His government lost the 2003 election, which was held in October, to Liberal Dalton McGuinty. The following year, Mr. Pengelly made an additional $179,383, according to the Sunshine List.
Before he left his law practice and joined government, Mr. Pengelly said he was assured that he would receive a year’s severance should the government be defeated. He said he also received his vacation pay when he left.
“In my view it is not inappropriate to pay people who agree to step into precarious senior political roles in government, at the same level they were earning in the private sector,” Mr. Pengelly said in an e-mail.
“It is also appropriate, in my view, that those same individuals should receive an appropriate level of severance given the likelihood that they will not be able to return to the jobs they left.”
One of ex-premier Dalton McGuinty’s top aides, Dave Gene, received $117,002 worth of severance payments in 2014, despite having left the premier’s office in February of 2013, when Ms. Wynne took over. He received $164,435 in 2013, most of it severance. Mr. Gene opted to spread his severance payments over two years.
Jeff Bangs, who served as Mr. Eves’s principal secretary in 2003, said he received six months’ severance after the October, 2003, election loss. He said his salary rate at the time was $140,000, meaning he received about $70,000 in severance. He worked more than a decade in government and opposition but less than a year in the Premier’s office.
Also, Jeff Bangs worked for the Tories for more than a decade in opposition and in government but less than a year in the Premier’s office.
This version has been corrected.