Here’s your cheque and here’s the door.
Webster’s defines severance as “the act or process of severing.” A government audit released last week blasted ICBC for many sins including its penchant for golden handshakes. “In the last five years,” notes the audit, “ICBC has spent over $25 million in severance and salary continuance payments.”
To quell the masses, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon promised reform and ICBC CEO Jon Schubert stepped down. According to ICBC, because Schubert resigned he’ll receive no severance package.
However, according to the latest Public Accounts report, Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberal government doled out $6,225,025 in severance payments in fiscal year 2011/12, a more than $14 million drop from 2011/10. The report contains no severance details and raises many questions such as: Who got paid? And by how much? Who decides severance terms? And do they include confidentiality agreements? And so on.
With Clark’s Liberals lagging in the polls, and the ICBC audit fresh in the public conscience, opposition parties have pounced. The government’s off the rails. It’s cronyism gone wild. Fiscal responsibility must be restored in Victoria.
Fair enough. But should taxpayer-funded severance packages be part of the public record?
Mable Elmore, NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, thinks so. “For public servants, the information about remuneration and compensation packages are available and public,” said Elmore, during a Courier interview last week. “So it’s not unreasonable to also have severance payments and those details also made available.”
The government may release “those details” in the future—it may have to, if served with a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
In 2011, through FOI, the B.C. Liberal government released a list of golden handshakes from the previous fiscal year. They included Allan Seckel, deputy minister to the premier ($549,776), deputy minister Martyn Brown ($416,191) and Ronald Norman, head of the public affairs bureau ($323,917).
Like Elmore, John Cummins, leader of the B.C. Conservative Party, wants severance details made public. Willingly and automatically.
“The pubic wants to know and they got a right to know,” he said. “This isn’t some private corporation… All of this should be pubic knowledge.”
Cummins, whose Tories (at 19 per cent) trail the NDP (49 per cent) and Clark’s Liberals (22 per cent) in the latest Angus Reid poll, blasted Clark for the 2011 severance packages doled out after she replaced Gordon Campbell as premier. The dismissals, he said, were mainly political and had little to do with the daily operation of government. “These are public dollars and quite often they are going to people who are probably quite adept at their job but are unable to sell some of the nonsense the government’s been trying to push out the door.”
Incidentally, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Cummins, a former Conservative MP, receives a $102,169 annual pension from taxpayers. Cummins disputes that number saying it’s smaller. “But I can’t tell you exactly because I don’t have the statement here.”
Cummins dismissed any link between severance and pension, adding that he’s never received a taxpayer-funded severance payment. “This is not a pension issue,” he said. “People are entitled to pensions if they’ve earned them.”