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Clark pulls former minister from earthquake team

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says she has taken action to ensure there are no political aftershocks from withdrawing the appointment of a former Liberal cabinet minister to an earthquake preparedness team.

Ms. Clark said on Wednesday after meeting with Attorney-General Suzanne Anton the decision had been made to drop John Les and his $140,000 contract as co-chairman of the earthquake preparedness consultation team.

The Opposition New Democrats, who called Mr. Les's appointment political patronage of seismic proportions, immediately applauded Ms. Clark's decision to dump the former solicitor-general.

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The party also urged the Premier to quash other appointments, including jobs handed to former cabinet minister Gordon Wilson and former Kelowna Liberal MLA Ben Stewart.

Mr. Les's removal from the consultation team came less than 24 hours after Ms. Anton announced his appointment and proclaimed him as best suited for the post because of his experience as a cabinet minister and former mayor of Chilliwack, B.C.

Ms. Clark bluntly called Ms. Anton's decision to appoint Mr. Les a mistake.

"Part of leadership is being able to course-correct, and being able to admit when mistakes are being made," she said at a news conference after announcing to the legislature that she was withdrawing the appointment. "That's what the Attorney-General did today, and as I said, people do make mistakes and part of leadership is fixing them."

Ms. Clark did not call Mr. Les's appointment political patronage, but she said his $140,000 contract did not fit properly with the Liberal government's aims to keep a tight hold on costs.

The Premier said she would not rescind Mr. Stewart's earlier appointment as one of the government's point men on Asia-Pacific trade. Mr. Stewart vacated his Kelowna seat last year to allow Ms. Clark to run in a byelection after she lost her Vancouver seat in last May's provincial election.

Mr. Les, who did not seek re-election last year, was to work alongside a former emergency official from California as co-chairman in the earthquake consultations.

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The Fraser Valley political stalwart had already been appointed to the Farm Industry Review Board, for which he receives up to $60,000 a year. He is also eligible for a taxpayer-funded pension for his time in the legislature.

"The only thing that he qualifies for is being an ex-Liberal minister, a Liberal insider," said Shane Simpson, an NDP critic. "There's some claim he has particular expertise. There's certainly no evidence of that. This is simply more pork-barrelling."

Mr. Les left cabinet in 2008 amid accusations that he improperly benefited from a land deal while mayor of Chilliwack, although a special prosecutor later cleared him of wrongdoing.

Mr. Les registered as a lobbyist last year for the Seabird Island Indian Band and Belkorp Environmental Services Ltd., according to the province's lobbyist registry.

Among his intended lobbying targets was Ms. Anton. The lobbyist registry does not indicate whether he has actually met Ms. Anton in that capacity.

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