Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Liberals stumbling on trial, pension increases

It's time for an alarming update on two issues that pose big potential problems for the Liberals, the MLAs' pay raise and the Basi-Virk corruption trial.
First, the trial, and the misadventures of Attorney General Wally Oppal.
Since the start of the trial of Bob Virk and Dave Basi on corruption charges in connection with the B.C. Rail deal, the government has had a political staffer as a full-time monitor on the courtroom. Taxpayers have been picking up the cost.
There's nothing wrong with that. The trial has seen allegations of government misconduct. It's reasonable that the government would want to have a firsthand report, even though ministers have refused to answer all questions about political dirty tricks and other issues raised in court.
This week the NDP decided to ask what the public affairs bureau staffer, Stuart Chase, was doing.
Oppal's responses were contradictory and, it turns out, wildly misleading.
"He merely reports to the government and other people regarding what's going on in courtrooms," said Oppal. "He assists the media, and he assists people."
As the NDP kept asking, the answers kept shifting. When the opposition asked Oppal to make the reports from the courtroom public, he said maybe there were no reports from Chase.
And then he said Chase was there to help reports and curious members of the public who wander into the courtroom.
"It assists if we have somebody there explaining how the system works to the public," he said.
Except that was all rubbish. Victoria Times Colonist political columnist Les Leyne called Chase to ask what he was doing in the courtroom.
And Chase flatly contradicted Oppal. He sends reports to Victoria on the trial twice a day. He never briefs reporters or talk to the public.
Maybe Oppal doesn't know what's going on. But that still doesn't explain why he provided inaccurate answers.
And it still leaves the question. If Chase - whose salary is paid by taxpayers - is preparing reports, why aren't they being made public? And if they're really just for the Liberals, why isn't the party?
The news for the government isn't much better on the bid to raise MLAs' pay by 30 per cent and introduce a much richer pension plan.
Premier Gordon Campbell - in line for a 50-per-cent pay increase - has justified the increases by pointing to the report from the three-person panel appointed to look at the compensation issue.
The pension proposals have got a rough ride from critics on the right and left. MLAs have a pension plan now. Taxpayers contribute the equivalent of nine per cent of their salaries - about $6,900 - to an RRSP. MLAs can match the contribution. A two-term MLA who does can expect to leave office with about $160,000 set aside for his eventual retirement.
The proposed new plan is far more generous. Taxpayers would be on the hook for about $35,000 per MLA per year.
The panel's report noted in one sentence that the three members could not agree on the pension plan. But journalist Sean Holman revealed in PublicEyeOnline.com that the problems with the proposal go beyond a mild disagreement.
University of British Columbia business professor Sandra Robinson revealed the panel had agreed on recommendations that included a pension plan that would have cost taxpayers about 40-per-cent less.
After she left for Europe, the other two panelists -- both senior lawyers -- rewrote the report to propose the more generous pension recommendations.
It's a serious breakdown in the process. The panel was already unrepresentative. The three members likely have an average income of more than $200,000. Their perceptions of reasonable wages and benefits will differ from someone earning the average B.C. salary of just under $40,000.
The wise course for the premier would be to send the whole issue back to a new, more representative panel.
But instead, he's going to press on.
Footnote: The NDP spent another day grilling Oppal Tuesday, after a defence lawyer in the Basi-Virk trial alleged that Liberal Party executive director Kelly Reichert had urged the RCMP not to lay charges against Basi in connection with political dirty tricks because it would be embarrassing for the Liberals. Oppal refused to answer the questions because the case is before the courts. For details on the allegations, see .
For more see Bill Tieleman's report.


Anonymous said...

The CBC News this evening around 6PM figure the pay grab should hit the house tommorow. The greedy folks will nod and say they are worthy of the raise. Those people get a raise every year, and have been doing so for some time. The RRSp you mention is sort of sweet as well, but folks keep drawing cartoons of politicians with their noses in the trough. I worked for the federal government for 35 years 22 of which were in the military, Combined with the OAP and Canada Pension it's less than the lowest paid MLA.s raise will turn out to be.We never got to tell our employer we wanted a certain number of dollars and then voted to make sure we got it,

Kerry Hall said...

Hi Paul,

In your column here, it says "Oppal refused to answer the questions because the case is before the courts. For details on the allegations, see [blank]."

Do you have that link available?

If so, please post.



Anonymous said...

The cash grab legislation has had first reding today we shall see just who argues against it pretty quickly. Talk is cheap, let's watch for the voting.
Each time I see people like Good Old Stan or Keving Kreuger I wonder why they are getting what they are being paid now?Imagine them trying to get a real job.