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Consultant deal for legislature clerks is a long-standing practice in B.C.

Aug 30 2012

The B.C. government's long-standing practice of using retired legislature clerks as consultants is getting too costly, say critics.

Since 1973, at least three retired clerks have been kept on as consultants, with George MacMinn being the latest at a cost of $480,000 over two years. That's almost as much as MacMinn earned during his last two years as clerk, the top management job at the legislature.

"This needs to stop permanently," NDP MLA John Horgan said Wednesday. "There seems to be this expectation that we should be in the Dark Ages.

Nowhere else in government does this happen where a person stays on the job for two years after they retire."

Similar arrangements have been made under the NDP, according to Hansard records.

MacMinn's predecessor, Ian Horne, received a similar deal in 1993 when MacMinn took over, but it is unclear what that contract was worth. Before that, when Horne took over as clerk in 1973, predecessor Edwin DeBeck was also kept on as a consultant, but Hansard records are not clear on how long he stayed or at what cost.

Retaining the organizational and procedural memory of clerks, something that appears to have become a customary arrangement, carries a high pricetag, said political scientist Norman Ruff.

The attention on MacMinn being paid a two-year consulting fee could not come at a worse time, "given the public's heightened awareness of public employee salaries," Ruff said.

Horgan unsuccessfully asked for the cancellation of MacMinn's contract on Tuesday during the first public meeting of the legislative assembly management committee, which is responsible for the B.C. legislature's $70-million annual budget.

The public now has access to those meetings because of a damning report released last month by auditor general John Doyle, who blamed members and the clerk for years of financial mismanagement.

MacMinn's successor, Craig James, said he is working diligently to implement recommendations from Doyle's report.

James said Tuesday that he infrequently consults MacMinn and sees little need for a consultant when the house is not sitting.

Neither James nor MacMinn responded to requests for interviews Wednesday.

MacMinn's contract as a consultant continues until September 2013.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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