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Premier questions severance for recalled MLAs

Speaker Bill Barisoff (centre) chairs the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which has begun making its proceedings public. - Black Press files
Speaker Bill Barisoff (centre) chairs the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which has begun making its proceedings public.
— image credit: Black Press files

VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark has questioned a decision made in secret by an all-party committee to extend $127,000 in severance pay to MLAs who are recalled by voters.

The decision was made in February 2011, at a time when recall campaigns were targeting B.C. Liberal MLAs over the imposition of the harmonized sales tax. It was belatedly disclosed in minutes from the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which began public disclosure of its proceedings this fall after a critical report from B.C. Auditor General John Doyle.

The severance amount equals 15 months of an MLA's base salary, which was frozen at $101,859 a year in 2010, when the B.C. government imposed a two-year freeze on public service salaries. Severance has been available to MLAs defeated in elections since 2007, and also to those who retire at election time before reaching six years in office, when they becoming eligible for a lucrative pension.

Clark was asked Thursday about extending severance to recalled MLAs. She said the government doesn't control the committee, which is chaired by legislative speaker Bill Barisoff and has both B.C. Liberal and NDP members.

"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," Clark said.

Clark added she has not had an opportunity to speak to committee members. Barisoff, MLA for Penticton, was one of the B.C. Liberals targeted in anti-HST recall efforts that fell short.

Barisoff defended the decision Thursday, telling reporters that MLAs who are recalled because of cabinet decisions rather than personal misconduct deserve severance so they can make the transition to another job. It can be difficult for defeated MLAs to find work, he said.

The committee decided in 2007 to raise MLA pay to the current level, and set a formula for cost-of-living increases. The premier's base pay was set at 190 per cent of base MLA pay, while cabinet ministers and the leader of the opposition make 150 per cent.

The premier and cabinet ministers have since been subject to a 10 per cent pay cut as long as the B.C. budget is in deficit.

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