B.C. government severance bill rises as firings continue

Rob Shaw, Postmedia

An exterior view of the British Columbia Legislature is shown in Victoria, B.C., on August 26, 2011.

An exterior view of the British Columbia Legislature is shown in Victoria, B.C., on August 26, 2011.

VICTORIA — B.C.'s NDP government has continued to fire staff to install NDP-friendly officials, bumping up the total severance bill to taxpayers.

New government figures show the NDP has fired 23 additional communications officials since last disclosing figures in July, bringing the total of terminated employees to 148. The public cost for severances is now almost $13.6 million, up $2.2 million in the past three months.

The government argued that the 23 communications officials had actually volunteered to be fired, because they either wanted the severance amount or did not want to work for the new NDP administration.

The severance costs would have been even higher, except that seven political staffers under the former Liberal government declined severance because they went on to work for the Liberals in opposition, as did one administrative employee.

The total bill has also increased from the $11.3 million first announced by the NDP government in July because some of the fired employees argued for better deals, provided more information about their employment, or hired lawyers to obtain more lucrative compensation packages.

"All terminations resulting from the recent government transition are complete," said government spokesperson Jen Holmwood. "However, the Public Service Agency continues to finalize severances with individuals resulting from these terminations."

The NDP government's termination bill now exceeds the cost in 2001 when the B.C. Liberals swept to power. The Liberals spent $9 million, which adjusted for inflation, is roughly $12 million, compared to the NDP's $13.6 million.

The NDP severances also include 15 administrative or support staff, 11 deputy ministers or associate deputy ministers and two public servants (government employees not politically appointed by cabinet).

It is common for political parties that form government to fire staff they identify as linked to the previous governing party, and hire new political staff for their offices. The NDP government has stacked its offices and government communications with friends and partisan party insiders, even though it criticized the previous Liberal government for such hiring. That includes one failed NDP candidate, and at least six staff connected to left-leaning civic party Vision Vancouver.

The NDP government hired Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's communications director, Katie Robb, this week. She'll assume a communications director job with a salary of up to $125,000 annually.

The government said it is following all of the appropriate rules and limits for hiring and firing.

"This is part of a normal process when the leadership of government changes," said Holmwood.

rshaw@postmedia.com

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