One of Christy Clark’s closest friends, who approved a misleading 2012 press release about an RCMP probe of government scientists that didn’t happen, got a nearly $475,000 golden parachute when the NDP took over from the BC Liberals in July.
That, according to documents released to theBreaker under the freedom of information laws on Sept. 13.
Athana Mentzelopoulos was paid $284,052, plus $50,002 in expenses, in her last year as deputy minister of finance under the BC Liberal government. Her $474,552.51 settlement was the second-biggest after Clark Deputy Minister and Public Service head Kim Henderson’s $540,955. (Henderson, who was paid $312,730 last year, agreed in August to be the $1-a-year special adviser to her NDP-hired successor, Don Wright.)
Ombudsperson Jay Chalke concluded in his damning April 6 report that eight health ministry researchers were wrongly fired over trumped-up claims of a data breach. His report said that then-goverment communications deputy minister Mentzelopoulos “conceded that she thought that it was important to have the RCMP in the press release, ‘because I assumed that it was true’.”
One of the eight, Roderick MacIsaac, died of suicide in fall 2012. In 2013, the government sent his sister, Linda Kayfish, a posthumous settlement cheque for $482.53.
Mentzelopoulos was a bridesmaid at Clark’s wedding and they worked together in Ottawa during the Chretien administration in the early 1990s. Mentzelopoulos oversaw the public affairs bureau for Gordon Campbell during part of his premiership, but returned to Ottawa as the director general of Health Canada’s consumer product safety directorate before Clark hired her in 2011.
Mentzelopoulos, Henderson and eight other top-level bureaucrats accounted for more than $4.02 million of the $11.3 million that the NDP government said it paid to 133 people officially laid-off in cabinet orders signed by Clark on July 17, her last day in office.
The list provided to theBreaker totalled $8,191,695.53. It was not complete, because the individual settlement amounts for dozens of politcal appointees had not been finalized. One of them, Virginia Bremner, is Clark’s ex-receptionist and the wife of NPA Vancouver city council candidate Hector Bremner.
A similar, partial list provided to theBreaker from June 2001 showed $2,906,833 in payments to NDP appointees who were swept out of office by the incoming Gordon Campbell BC Liberals. Deputy ministers Russel Pratt ($191,012) and Jim O’Dea ($112,281) received the biggest settlements on that list.
In July, the B.C. government said the total bill for transition severances in 2001 was $9 million which, after inflation, would be $11.93 million in 2017 dollars.
Also enjoying big 2017 exit payments were Clark deputy Neil Sweeney ($413,631.51), education deputy minister Dave Byng ($409,346.51) and John Paul Fraser ($396,205), the government’s chief propagandist and son of conflict of interest commissioner Paul Fraser.
In Clark’s office, the biggest non-deputy payouts went to corporate priorities director Sandy Wharf ($214,538), executive operations director Michelle Leamy ($201,175), communications head Ben Chin ($159,533), and correspondence manager Antoinette de Wit ($158,091).
Deputy chief of staff Michele Cadario ($147,249) and issues management director Evan Southern ($73,777) were both key players in the 2015 “triple delete” email scandal. Investigators from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner found Cadario routinely deleted all of her email while Southern used post-it notes to keep track of FOI requests.
Shane Mills, who managed the party’s “Truth Truck” election campaign stunt, got a $145,646 payout. He is now the party spokesman.
Clark also cost taxpayers $1.25 million in 2013 when she fired three deputy ministers — Don Fast (Community, Sport and Cultural Development), Cairine MacDonald (Advanced Education) and Graham Whitmarsh (Health) — after a surprise re-election win over the NDP.