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B.C. official under fire for $40,000 travel bill

Aug 29 2012

British Columbia's former chief electoral officer spent more than $40,000 on travel in just four months, including airfare for his wife to join him at a conference in Kenya, a self-appointed government watchdog has found.

Integrity B.C. released documents Tuesday showing Craig James - acting chief electoral officer from June 2010 until August 2011, and now clerk of the B.C. legislature - claimed $43,295 from Elections B.C. for travel between Aug. 25, 2010 and Dec. 12, 2010.

"This is an individual who chose to fly in the lap of luxury whenever possible on flights, and to stay at some of the finest hotels throughout North America," Integrity B.C. executive director Dermod Travis said Tuesday.

"It demonstrates a sense of a culture of entitlement," he added, saying his nonprofit organization requested the travel expenses after receiving a tip about the costs.

Documents show James's expenses included $14,523.58 for him and his wife to fly to Nairobi, Kenya, to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association annual conference.

Other expenses included almost $6,000 for James to attend a National Conference of State Legislatures in Arizona and almost $6,000 for the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws conference in Washington, D.C.

Disclosure documents posted to Elections B.C.'s website show James's successor as chief electoral officer, Keith Archer, has spent only $15,409.17 on travel in his first 11 months on the job.

James stayed at the Cosmos Club in Washington for $298 a night, and the Arizona Biltmore - where the conference was being held, James said - for $399 a night.

On Tuesday, James defended the expenses saying they were all legitimate, and that all bookings were done in accordance with the policy of the day.

"The trip to Kenya was the annual conference for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and [New Democratic Party MLA and then deputy speaker] Claire Trevena and her husband Mike, and the Speaker [Bill Barisoff] and his wife, and myself and my wife attended this conference," James said.

He was asked to give a talk there on the recall and initiative process because he had been overseeing the high-profile vote on the harmonized sales tax.

James said he was able to bring his wife because of a policy allowing senior Elections B.C. staff to expense two tickets - for themselves and a spouse - if they are cheaper than one business class seat.

Documents released Tuesday show that policy at Elections B.C. was contained in a document approved by James himself, shortly after he took the job.

James also said that much of his travel was subsidized by other organizations, and so taxpayers are not footing the entire cost.

"It would have been significantly more if it was not subsidized," he said.

Documents obtained by Integrity B.C. through a freedom of information request show James submitted documentation confirming an executive class trip on Air Canada would have cost $19,577.70. Using a group rate through a travel agent, James and his wife both flew on KLM for a total of $14,523.58.

The release by Integrity B.C. comes at a time of widespread fiscal austerity in government, with Finance Minister Kevin Falcon having cracked down recently on executive salaries and perks.

On Tuesday, Elections B.C. spokesman Don Main said the province's new chief electoral officer rescinded the James-era travel policy upon his arrival, and adopted the same rules that apply to core government agencies.

That policy states that travel expenses of a spouse can only be expensed when "a spouse is formally representing the government and a written invitation has been issued to the spouse."

The NDP said Trevena's trip was funded entirely by the Speaker's office. The Speaker's office did not respond to a question about the matter.

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