MLAs voted secretly for $127,000 allowance

Politicians granted themselves recall allowances, documents show

Facing the threat of being yanked out of office by angry voters, MLAs voted in secret last year to set up a $127,000 golden parachute, newly released documents reveal.

Liberal and NDP MLAs on the legislature's secretive management committee met Feb. 16, 2011, to grant themselves up to $127,324 in a "transitional allowance" should any of them be successfully recalled from office.

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The meeting wasn't publicized or open to the public. But minutes released late last month show the results of the vote, held in the Speaker's office at the B.C. legislature.

The move came during the peak of public outrage over the B.C. Liberal government's harmonized sales tax.

Fight HST forces led by former premier Bill Vander Zalm had surprised the government with a successful petition drive that was about to force a referendum on the unpopular tax.

Four Liberal MLAs were also facing recall campaigns by anti-HST forces.

A failed campaign against Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong had ended two weeks before MLAs granted themselves the new recall allowance.

"It's appalling they passed this in secret," said Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"There was no mention of this at the time ... so clearly, they knew it wasn't going to be popular with the public."

Previously, the transitional allowance had been available only to MLAs who retired or were defeated in a general election. MLAs who resigned or were recalled from office weren't eligible for the money.

The allowance was designed to help departing politicians find new jobs by providing up to 15 months' salary. Base salary for an MLA is $101,859.

Speaker Bill Barisoff, who chairs the committee, did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

NDP caucus chairman Shane Simpson declined to comment until Barisoff publicly addressed the issue.

The recall campaigns against the four Liberal MLAs ultimately failed to reach the required threshold to remove them from office, and no recall transitional allowance was ever paid out.

The legislative management committee that approved the recall fund was sharply criticized by the auditor general this year for presiding over lax bookkeeping at the B.C. legislature.

Committee members, including Barisoff, admitted they didn't meet often enough to properly address issues.

The committee met only 10 times between 2009 and 2011, according to annual reports released late last month. Some meetings were as short as 15 minutes.

During the meetings, MLAs voted on such things as adding Braille to their business cards, maintaining a red-coloured carpet in the legislature, purchasing hands-free devices for cell-phones and allowing MLAs to buy iPads using constituency office money.

Meeting minutes show the auditor general's critical report was mentioned only once, during a committee meeting that lasted 25 minutes.

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