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Millions of dollars spent hidden in B.C. legislature's annual report

Only an aggregate total of $16M in salary and supplier expenses is shown, despite calls for more transparency.
NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth promised in early 2019 that the legislature would finally come under the 1993 Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which would require totals to be broken down to show individual recipients, but this has not happened

Almost 27% of taxpayers’ money the B.C. Legislative Assembly spent in 2021 on salaries and suppliers was hidden in the institution’s annual report. 

The annual disclosure report, published in the Aug. 30 B.C. government public accounts, shows almost $60.7 million was paid out during the last fiscal year, which ended March 31. Of that, individual recipients of aggregate payments totalling $16.28 million are not shown because they do not meet reporting thresholds and the freedom of information law does not apply to the seat of government. 

A list of named and titled employees shows $11.38 million in salaries over $75,000. But another $12.58 million was paid in salaries under the $75,000 mark. The report does not include salaries and wages paid to constituency assistants on behalf of MLAs.  

The list also shows payments totalling $33,017,841 to suppliers for goods and services, as well as other provincial and federal departments for taxes and pensions. There is an unknown number of suppliers who were paid $24,999 or less last year, for a total of $3,696,443. 

NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth promised in early 2019, after Speaker Darryl Plecas and chief of staff Alan Mullen discovered corruption by the clerk and sergeant-at-arms, that the legislature would finally come under the 1993 Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Three legislature-appointed watchdogs, including Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy, had publicly called for new transparency and accountability measures to prevent another spending scandal. 

However, more than three-and-a-half years later, the NDP has still not acted on Farnworth’s promise. In June, an all-party committee recommended the law be extended to cover the Legislative Assembly’s administrative functions, which would include spending. 

“There is no reason why the Legislative Assembly should not, in respect of its administrative functions, be subject to the same transparency and accountability rules as the more than 2,900 public bodies across the province,” McEvoy said in April 7 testimony to the committee. 

“It is time for the Legislative Assembly to adhere to the same standards.” 

Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd was the highest-paid employee last year, at $284,504, followed by law clerk and parliamentary counsel Suzie Seo at $225,860 and executive financial officer Hilary Woodward, at $206,780.

Woodward was apparently terminated June 22 after a sudden meeting with Ryan-Lloyd. Ryan-Lloyd refused to comment, calling it a personnel matter. Replacement Randall Smith began June 23. There was no mention made about Woodward’s departure during the open portion of a Legislative Assembly Management Committee meeting the following week. 

Woodward was the last witness at the fraud and breach of trust trial of Ryan-Lloyd’s mentor Craig James. Ex-clerk James, found guilty of spending almost $1,900 of taxpayers’ money on a custom suit and shirts for personal use, was sentenced in July to a month of house arrest and two months of curfew. 

The biggest private sector supplier to the Legislative Assembly was computer support contractor Tecnet Canada Inc. at $1,049,556, followed by Microsoft Canada for $804,135. There were $312,316 in severance payments, but the number of recipients and their names and titles were not disclosed. 

Suppliers included NDP advertising agencies Romar Communications ($184,800) and Now Communications Group ($145,606). McCarthy Tetrault LLP was the top-paid law firm ($105,097). The list did not include any payments to Fasken, the Vancouver law firm that defended James at his B.C. Supreme Court trial.

Otherwise, the three biggest payments were $7,392,604 to B.C. Pension Corp., $2,202,211 to Receiver General for Canada, and $1,514,428 to the B.C. Public Service Agency. The legislature paid $929,365 for the employer health tax in 2021-2022.