Premier Christy Clark is expected to call a by-election as early as Wednesday to seek a seat in the legislature. But the New Democrats didn't wait for the campaign to start to challenge her deficit-slayer image, criticizing her cabinet's decision to jack up the pay scale for top political staff.
NDP Opposition Leader Adrian Dix pounced on the salary changes while visiting the riding of Westside-Kelowna to announce his party's candidate to challenge Ms. Clark in the coming by-election. His MLAs and staffers followed up with a barrage of social media postings. The cabinet orders, dated June 3, were released by the NDP on Tuesday – a signal that Mr. Dix's team won't be trying to replicate its unsuccessful positive campaign style from the general election.
Mr. Dix contrasted the recent decision to impose fees on wheelchair users in a string of publicly owned residential care homes with one of Ms. Clark's first official acts of her new term of office: creating a more generous pay range for senior political aides.
"When the Premier campaigned in the election and said they were going to control public spending, I don't think anyone would have imagined that would mean new fees for seniors in wheelchairs, and massive salary increases for Liberal insiders," Mr. Dix told reporters.
Not all the political aides will automatically be in line for a raise, but the ceiling has been raised. As a result, Ms. Clark's new deputy chief of staff, Michele Cadario, will start at $195,000 per year, roughly $50,000 more than her predecessor. Ms. Cadario played a senior role in the B.C. Liberal election campaign, and replaces Kim Haakstad who was forced to resign over an ethnic outreach scheme that embarrassed the B.C. Liberal government before the election.
Ms. Clark brushed past reporters on Tuesday following a ceremony where her new 49-member caucus took their oaths of office.
It was left to Finance Minister Mike de Jong to defend the new compensation package for chiefs of staff. "From a fiscal point of view, the concern has been addressed in that the overall budget for staff is the same," said Mr. de Jong, who is expected to introduce a new budget in the next few weeks. "I think people understand a new government with a new mandate … may make changes of this sort. But they also want to know we are sharpening our pencils and that the budget is going to be balanced."
Ben Stewart took his oath of office as the MLA for Westside-Kelowna in the House, knowing that he'll be handing in his resignation soon to pave the way for Ms. Clark. "It was bittersweet," he said in an interview outside the chambers. "I look around the room, I look at my colleagues who worked really hard, put a lot of effort into winning their respective seats. You have to feel honoured to be one of the 915 MLAs who have ever sat in the [House]."
He admitted he wasn't happy when Ms. Clark decided to take him up on his offer to resign. "There were a number of us who had offered up … but when the call came I knew what it was about. It didn't make her feel good to have to ask me," he told reporters later on Tuesday. "It was disappointing at the start, but I am excited about the next 28 days."
The NDP have named Carole Gordon as their Westside-Kelowna candidate. Ms. Gordon, a public-school teacher, has lived in Kelowna for 40 years, while Ms. Clark will be parachuting in from Vancouver. But Mr. Stewart won the riding on May 14 nearly 6,200 votes ahead of Ms. Gordon. "The Premier was looking for a safe seat, and Westside-Kelowna was one of the best in the province – she'll do well there," Mr. Stewart said.