Dermod Travis. File photo

Culture of entitlement at B.C. legislature keeps going and going

It would seem Animal House has closed at the B.C. legislature in favour of a new production – A Taste of Shakespeare – with scenes from Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Titus Andronicus and a special audience introduction to Puck from a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The performances are replete with tales of betrayal, revenge and possible redemption.

With the clerk of the legislature Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz placed on paid administrative leave last month, there’s no telling how this one is going to end, but it will come back to bite someone on the backside.

Whether it’s Speaker Darryl Plecas, James and Lenz, the B.C. prosecution service and the RCMP, the B.C. NDP or the B.C. Liberal party, only time will tell.

It’s one reason why the Liberals would have been far better advised in recent days to have simply asked, “How can we help you get to the bottom of this, Mr. Speaker?” rather than try to hoist Plecas with his own petard.

Amazingly, despite all the protestations to the contrary, there’s still a culture of entitlement hard at work in the legislature.

In 2017-18, travel expenses for former premier Christy Clark and Premier John Horgan together totalled $49,820.

For James? $51,349. Lenz racked up $23,079 in expenses.

The clerk’s ports of call over the years have included: El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bhutan, India, Nigeria, Malaysia, South Africa, Malta, Thailand, Kenya, Guyana and the United Kingdom.

He’s the highest-paid legislature clerk in the land, pulling in $347,090 in 2017/18. The clerk in Ontario earned $241,000 and the clerk of the House of Commons, somewhere between $207,000 and $243,000.

As the Times Colonist reported in 2016, salaries for statutory officers are “keyed to the salary of the chief justice of the provincial court, now at $273,000.”

In 2012-13 the gap between the salaries for James and the chief justice was $9, in favour of James. Last year, it had spread to $28,478, in favour of James.

The great unknown is whether B.C. taxpayers are paying full freight.

In addition to his duties at the legislature, James is also the executive director of the Canadian Council of Public Accounts Committees, a consultant to the World Bank and is on the teaching staff at McGill University’s International Professional Development Program for parliamentary staff.

If taxpayers aren’t paying full freight, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee should say so, otherwise James is paying a price to his reputation that he might not deserve.

Lenz earned $218,167 last year putting him ahead of Premier John Horgan and, theoretically, more than the clerk of the House of Commons.

When he first appeared on the $75,000 list in 2008/09, his salary – in the same job – was $87,001.

Lenz and James aren’t short of company on that list.

The number of staff earning more than $75,000 at the legislature has gone from 12 in 2004/05 to 82 last year, not including 15 caucus staff who are on the list. Since 2004/05, the line item for salaries has nearly doubled to $20.5 million.

One area where James has had some success at controlling costs is in the area of supplier payments. In the seven years he’s been clerk, payments have fallen by $8.7 million to $222.8 million, compared to the seven years before, although suppliers payments for less than $25,000 have risen by $1.5 million to $21.7 million.

It’s those smaller contracts, though, that are more easily handed out through direct awards, circumventing the public tender process.

There could very well be two courts at the end of the day in this affair, the more traditional with a judge and the court of public opinion.

Senator Mike Duffy won in the former and lost in the latter.

Justice Charles Vaillancourt set a high bar for conviction in his 2016 ruling regarding Senator Mike Duffy: “The law does not lightly brand a person as a criminal; If there is any reasonable doubt that the accused acted out of an honest (even if mistaken) belief that his conduct was a proper exercise of his jurisdiction, power or discretion, he is entitled to be acquitted…”

A ruling that hopefully was not lost on the RCMP or B.C. Prosecution Service in recent weeks.

In the meantime, the Liberals should ruminate on how Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar ended.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

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