Platinum Goodbyes – and Replacements

Had hoped to start this week’s message with the thought that our new government masters deserve time to advance friendlier and more transparent governance as promised. Alas, a flood of less than inspiring press releases penned by disciplined party scribes has changed all that.

I was prepared to write: What’s done is done, so let’s give Premier John Horgan and his Green Party saviours a chance to prove their claim that a minority government can deliver good long-term governance. All it needs is a courteous, respectful approach with “transparency” in all decisions.

A wonderful ambition. One all citizens, regardless of party affiliation, would welcome after decades of ill-tempered bickering from whichever party was in opposition.

I did not break out the champagne when Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon gave the nod to Mr. Horgan and his Green Party trio to coalesce and try governing. I accepted the Royal decree and waited for the next step, the inevitable thinning of public service ranks to meet new ruling party dictates.

Some of the cuts can be understood others must be questioned.Some are insults to all public servants who have sworn and kept oaths to serve their duly elected government and the people regardless of the ideology of the policy makers.

As important as the requirement for sound judgment and transparency in these sadly routine staff juggles is the need for carefully chosen wording in the press releases accompanying the announcements. I have at hand the July 20 release from Premier Horgan’s office regarding four key appointments: Kenneth G. Peterson to the chair of BC Hydro; Cassie J. Doyle to head BC Housing Management Commission; Joy MacPhail to the chair of the Insurance Corporation of BC and Cathy McLay to the board of directors ICBC.

Their areas of expertise are dealt with briefly and can be reviewed in detail at readers’ leisure. I am more interested in some of the general wording in the press release – and the absence of transparency.

Nowhere in the press release is there a mention of the salaries offered the new appointees. Even more telling is the complete lack of information on the amounts to be paid out in compensation to the dislodged appointees being asked to turn in the keys to executive bathrooms. A few days after the press release enterprising journalists put together some numbers and the government confirmed a total payout of close to $14 million. It was transparency by confirmation,not by voluntary disclosure.

Readers interested enough to do a search of “salaries of Crown corporation executives” for details omitted in Premier Horgan’s press release should be sitting down and making sure their coffee cups are well clear of the keyboard. I’ll just tempt them with advance notice that low paid bosses are paid in excess of half a million a year with all benefits included while the top job at Hydro pays double that. Their pensions are the stuff of dreams.

The last time we saw such a major clearing of the decks in BC was around 16 years ago when the Liberals took over after 10 years of NDP rule. The compensation payout at the time was in excess of $9 million.Confirmation that this year exercise will cost $5 million more was accompanied with a pious claim that with inflation factored in the $9 million paid out 16-years ago was actually more than the $14 million floating out the door this year.

If you haven’t yet spilled your coffee, consider Premier Horgan’s explanation why these costly changes are urgently needed: “For 16 years under the Liberal government ordinary people struggled to get ahead – nowhere have they seen that more than in out-of-control housing and Hydro costs. We’re tackling affordability and getting government working for people again starting with Crown corporations and government organizations …These new executives are ready to get to work for British Columbians. They were all chosen for their strong track records … Each of them will face significant challenges because of the choices made by the previous government …”

Is he saying the guard now being dismissed didn’t work hard, didn’t have strong track records,didn’t face significant challenges with the best interests of the people at hearts – but deserved the richest of send offs?

In the spirit of transparency and new friendly behavious Premier Horgan’s press release could have mentioned how one financial Liberal choice has left him with a cash flow that is the envy of the rest of Canada … a Liberal budgeting legacy that helps him meet a multi-million dollar fired and hired payout to Crown corporation heads – plus breadcrumb extra $100 a month to support the living costs of the poor and handicapped.

I promise to write in thankful praise the day our coalescing NDP/Green government introduces substantial cuts to ICBC, Hydro rates, ferry fares, and launches massive low cost housing projects. You may need to reheat your coffee while waiting

One final note: Our new government doesn’t like to be called a coalition, which is why I have used “coalescing” for the NDP/Greens cohabitation period. An interesting word “coalesce” … when things “come together to form one mass or whole.” Or, as the Oxford dictionary explains in definition: “The puddles had coalesced into shallow streams.”

Hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t write the Oxford dictionary.

5 comments

  1. Certainly language is not a strong suit with your new government; “coalition” is both more pertinent and more respectable.

    As for the squandered $14 million it makes me sick. I hope the public remembers it when some homeless shelter or youth centre is denied a much needed funding increase.

  2. In total agreement with your description of our not so transparent government and their happy spending of our taxes for political reasons.

  3. I always thought that you leaned to the right a little but always thought your comments were fair. I am now having my doubts since the last election. What has happened in the last couple of weeks is no different from what happened when there is a chance of any government. The problem is how do we stop the huge payouts regardless of who wins the election.

  4. Seems to me that I can recall some of the Bill Bennett government news releases of the day that did provide salary information on appointment. Executive Assistants (the modern day Ministerial Assistant) signed on in 1975-76 for an offered $19,500 annual salary. The salary was certainly mentioned in the Order-in-Council which was made public within a few hours on day of appointment or day after. I took it gratefully. What a chance to work in the halls of power and service to British Columbians….So allowing for inflation…wonder what that would be today? So while we are on topic of “transparency “….perhaps the modern day Press Gallery would like to provide a template for what a “Transparent ” news release might look like? Let’s nail it down Mr. Hume…the word gets used an awful lot…but what does it really mean? Thanks again for your column. After all these many years…it still remains a good and thoughtful read. – Jim Bennett

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