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B.C. government grilled over $140,000 contract to former Liberal cabinet minister John Les

Christy Clark is greeted by MLA John Les at her first Liberal Caucus meeting as premier-designate on March 2, 2011.


A day after British Columbia Premier Christy Clark scrapped plans to hire a former cabinet minister to study earthquake preparedness, questions continued to swirl around the process that saw John Les receive the $140,000 contract.

NDP critic Shane Simpson pressed Justice Minister Suzanne Anton in Question Period on why the assignment for Mr. Les was never posted despite a procurement policy that says all contracts valued at more than $75,000 must be posted for open competition. Ms. Anton said Mr. Les's contract did not fit within "our goals of keeping government small."

The government plans to proceed with the study with one chair – emergency management and public-safety consultant Henry Renteria, who spent nine years as director of the California governor's office of emergency services. He was also emergency-services director for the city of Oakland, Calif., for 18 years.

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In a scrum with reporters on Thursday, Ms. Anton nonetheless continued to defend Mr. Les. "Mr. Les had expertise in communities as a former mayor, as a former solicitor general," she said at the legislature in Victoria. The minister said it was her call to hire Mr. Les. "I am the minister. The decisions are mine. The choices are mine. The responsibility is mine."

While Ms. Anton said "a number of people" were considered for the assignment, she declined to name them.

Twenty-four hours after Mr. Les's appointment was announced earlier this week, Ms. Clark said the assignment was news to her and a mistake by Ms. Anton, so it would be scrapped. "Part of leadership is being able to course-correct and being able to admit when mistakes are being made," she told a news conference at the legislature.

The NDP opposition has been tracking what it calls a "Liberal job-creation strategy" for failed Liberal candidates from the 2013 provincial election – former MLAs and party insiders whose new positions add up to $1.17-million in compensation a year.

Another case in the spotlight was the appointment of Ben Stewart as Asia trade commissioner – a job that pays $150,000 a year. Mr. Stewart was elected last May as a Kelowna-area MLA, but gave up his seat so Ms. Clark could run in a by-election. Ms. Clark had been defeated in her Vancouver-area riding.

Mr. Les, the former Chilliwack MLA and former cabinet minister who did not seek re-election last year, previously made the NDP's list of questionable postings for a $60,000 job as chairman of the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board.

In an interview, Mr. Simpson said there was no evidence that Mr. Les had any particular qualifications for his earthquake assignment, which was supposed to consist of a consultation process and public-education campaign on earthquake preparedness. The Justice Ministry was expecting a final report on the matter at the end of 2014.

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"You've got to do this right and you've got to find the best people to do it, and not use them as a perk for their friends. And that's essentially what they did with Les," he said. He said Mr. Les stood in contrast to Mr. Renteria.

"You know what that guy is doing," he said of the U.S. consultant, citing his emergency preparedness experience. "I don't know what John Les is doing other than to pick up the [paycheque]."

Mr. Les did not respond to calls to his Chilliwack residence seeking comment.

In an interview, Mr. Renteria said he had just learned on Thursday morning that Mr. Les would no longer be involved in the project. He said he did not expect the departure to have much of an impact. "We were very early on into this process," he said, adding staff in Ms. Anton's ministry will provide the expertise in government that Mr. Les was expected to add to the review.

Mr. Renteria said he met Mr. Les and others in Vancouver earlier this week to launch the study. "I felt very comfortable that he was part of the project."

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About the Authors
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More


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