British Columbia

$258K retirement payout called into question in Plecas report

Clerk of the House Craig James received the lump sum of $257,988.38 in 2012, despite still being very much employed at the B.C. Legislature. The Plecas report says the payout was granted under a retirement scheme cancelled 25 years earlier.

Clerk of the House Craig James received the lump sum in 2012, despite still being employed

Suspended Clerk of the Legislative Assembly Craig James makes a statement to media with suspended Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz in Vancouver in late November. (Ben Nelms/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Of the many scandalous allegations outlined in the Plecas report, perhaps the most costly concerns a lump sum retirement allowance of $257,988.38 paid out to Clerk of the House Craig James in 2012 that was based on a retirement scheme terminated 25 years earlier. 

According to Plecas, the payment was made possible by a 2012 memorandum to James signed by then-Speaker of the House Bill Barisoff in which Barisoff purported to end a retirement allowance program that had already ended in 1987.

The memorandum triggered a calculation of outstanding liabilities and James received over a quarter of a million dollars, the report says.

Both James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were suspended from the Legislative Assembly on Nov. 20. The two men have denied any wrongdoing and call the allegations in the Plecas Report "completely false and untrue."

In the report, Plecas has many concerns about the retirement allowance: 

  • James was first hired at the legislature in February of 1987 as clerk of committees, two months before the retirement allowance program ended. 
  • As clerk of committees he was not eligible for the retirement allowance, nor was it ever mentioned in his terms of employment.
  • A few months after James was hired in 1987, a new benefits and retirement scheme was introduced which James participated in. That would make the lump sum payment retirement double dipping.
  • The lump sum payment was calculated using James's 2011 clerk of the house salary and not salaries he had in lesser paying jobs in the preceding years.
  • Although the retirement allowance was intended to be payable on retirement. a Barisoff memorandum to James in Feb. 2012 said that was not the case.
  • Documentation suggests James tried to prevent having the lump sum payment publicly disclosed.
  • The lump sum payment was addressed in anonymous terms in a 2013 Auditor General Report as "unusual compensation arrangements."
  • A follow-up report conducted by the legislative assembly's then-director of human resources, Jo-Anne Kern, flagged that James's lump sum payment was based on extremely generous interpretations of the past scheme and should have been supported by formal documentation. It also brought into question the role of Barisoff.
  • The Kern report was either not filed by then-Speaker of the House Linda Reid or it was removed from the Legislative Assembly's records. It is also missing from the Speaker's vault. Plecas wrote that he was able to obtain the report from a former employee who kept a copy "anticipating that its existence might one day be disputed."

In summary, Plecas writes the payment to James was of "questionable authority and it ought to be investigated properly with consideration given as to whether it was authorized."