British Columbia·Analysis

Christy Clark not backing down in face of top-up scrutiny

Premier Christy Clark has defended the practice of receiving a leader's allowance. But it's not the first time the ethics of the premier and her staff has been questioned.

B.C. premier facing more questions about political decision making

Premier Christy Clark speaks to reporters about the leader's allowance on April 28, 2015. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

A salary top-up for the leader of the B.C. Liberals — Does it pass the smell test?

It's not against the law for Premier Christy Clark to be paid by her party, for work she does for the B.C. Liberals.

However, for many, this sort of bonus on top of a $195,000 salary stinks. 

But failing a smell test hasn't bothered Christy Clark in the past, and that's unlikely to change.

"I am the premier of British Columbia and the representative of our government and I am also the leader of the Liberal party of British Columbia and have been since I was elected," said Clark in question period on Thursday.

"Those are both jobs that I hold down. I don't think it is right and proper either that taxpayers should pay for the work as party leader, I am also obliged to do."

'Not enough money to live on' 

But the premier faces a difficult challenge because of the amount of money she receives from her party, and the source of the money in question.

N.D.P. MLA David Eby delivers complaint against Premier Christy Clark to the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

The premier has been paid $277,000 from the B.C. Liberals since she was elected leader in 2011. That averages out to an annual takeaway of $46,167.67, on top of her existing salary.

"I think a lot of people are surprised to hear that nearly $200,000-a-year plus benefits, plus pension is not enough money for someone to live on.," said NDP MLA David Eby.

"That she also needs to receive a cut of each of the donations that is received by the Liberal party."

Focused on job creation

Christy Clark must also deal with the perception those donations come in large part because of her influence as premier. The Liberal party is funded by donors — many of whom pay as much as $10,000 for fundraising dinners that involve meetings with Clark.

But Clark isn't concerned about any appearance of conflict, or influence and her justification for her actions is simple — her focus on the health of the B.C. economy.

"I am always focused on growing the economy and creating more jobs for people. That is an end in itself. That is what I am focused on.," she said.

As the debate over Clark's actions continues, it should be noted she is not the first Liberal leader to take a bonus for party work. Gordon Campbell started receiving a bonus in 1993 — but a lot has changed since that time.

Look no further than the premier's salary for an example; Mike Harcourt collected just $77,387 before travel and expenses that year.

The NDP says Clark is out of touch with ordinary British Columbians.

"Her top-up is higher than the average salary in British Columbia. It is a total disconnect," said NDP leader John Horgan.

Practice banned elsewhere 

Other jurisdictions have taken the smell test and delivered a failing grade. Quebec, Alberta and Nova Scotia have all introduced bans on bonuses for party leaders after previously allowing the practice.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the face of the federal Liberals' resurgence, also doesn't get a bonus for doing work for the party.

But none of this fazes Christy Clark. She has been down this road before. Remember before the last election when some of the most senior members of her staff got tied up in the 'quick wins' scandal?

The issue is still before a special prosecutor, but her political staff remained largely unscathed because they used personal email addresses to deal with political issues.

The premier repeatedly said "it was a very serious mistake," and she survived an emergency meeting of her cabinet.

Not the first sniff test

Then there was delete-gate. Staff in the premier's office deleted every email they received. That too smelled bad, but the party argued rules weren't broken because all the messages were transitory.

The government has been under fire for advertising, as it spends $8 million a year on ads that run across the province. The party justifies them as crucial information for the public. The opposition has wondered whether that money would have been better spent on education.

"I think the expectation is that if she is doing political work, she does it on the political dime, not the dime of the taxpayers," said Rich Coleman, a cabinet minister and one of the premier's staunchest supporters.

"She's our leader. It's a political party and in it's own right is a large organization. I've never had an issue with it."

No politician is perfect. Clark has established herself as the leader of the country's strongest economy.

For her, the true sniff test will come when British Columbians head out to vote next year — an act that often requires holding your nose to ignore the things you don't like, in order to support the things you do.


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