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HomeBusinessExclusive: Choosing not to resign in the wake of scandal meant a $74K windfall from taxpayers for ex-BC Liberal staffer

Exclusive: Choosing not to resign in the wake of scandal meant a $74K windfall from taxpayers for ex-BC Liberal staffer

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Bob Mackin

An independent watchdog is hoping the Legislative Assembly Management Committee puts an end to the golden parachute entitlements for political staffers in the B.C. government. 

More than 130 BC Liberal appointees were laid-off by cabinet order July 17, 2017, on the eve of the NDP government’s swearing-in, costing taxpayers at least $11.3 million in severance payments.

“Severance is intended to tide you over, it’s not intended to act as a super-inflated bonus package, which seems to have been the practice with the change in government in 2017,” said Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC. “When you have a situation where the severance policies for staffers are more generous than the severance policies for MLAs, the transition allowance, you have a serious problem.”

Evan Southern, the BC Liberals’ operations director in 2017 (Twitter)

The all-party LAMC meets Feb. 21 to receive another report from its chair, Speaker Darryl Plecas, about corruption and waste in the Legislature. Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were suspended Nov. 20 and are under RCMP investigation.

The $73,777 that Evan Southern scored was a fraction of the $540,955 given to public service head Kim Henderson or the $474,552.51 paid to deputy finance minister and longtime Christy Clark confidante Athana Mentzelopoulos in July 2017. 

Southern, however, took leave of absence in November 2015 from his full-time job as Clark’s director of issues management after the triple delete scandal. He worked in the BC Liberal headquarters through the May 2017 provincial election as the director of operations and returned to Clark’s office just long enough to qualify for the severance. 

Southern did not respond to requests for comment from theBreaker.news.

According to a statement from the Public Service Agency, “The employee was employed by the government in the public service as director of issues management in the Office of the Premier in July of 2017. Public service employees whose employment concludes without cause and without notice are entitled to severance in compliance with the Employment Termination Standards regulation.”

You wouldn’t know that by looking at Southern’s LinkedIn profile. His online resume says that he worked as director of operations for the BC Liberals from December 2015 to July 2017, but it makes no mention of his brief 2017 return to the Office of the Premier, which he originally joined in June 2014. Southern’s name does not appear in an archived copy of the government directory for July 2017 from the Legislature Library.  

Said Travis: “The BC Liberal Party, as his last employer, should be the party responsible for paying out the severance package.”

Southern was paid $102,902 in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, his last full-year in government. He originally joined the BC Liberal government in April 2011 as executive assistant for the Minister of Forests and Lands and later worked as chief of staff for the Attorney General from July 2012 to June 2014.

While working in the premier’s office, Southern’s duties included handling freedom of information requests. His job, but not name, was mentioned in the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s October 2015 investigation of triple deleting in cabinet ministers’ offices. Rather than a computer, Southern used Post-it Notes to keep track of freedom of information requests to the premier’s office.

“The Office of the Premier has put the FOI coordinator in a difficult situation,” Elizabeth Denham wrote. “I believe he is not adequately positioned to determine the Executive Branch’s access to information process. It is surprising that the executive branch of the Office of the Premier would conclude that not writing anything down about the processing of an access request, apart from a temporarily retained sticky note, is appropriate.”

Southern’s transfer to the party office, to become director of operations, was announced at the end of the next month in a memo from party executive director Laura Miller. 

“We’ve managed to pry him away from 501 Belleville Street [the address of the Legislature] where he’s worked the past six years in government, most recently as the Premier’s director of issues management,” Miller wrote Nov. 27, 2015. “Hard-working, well-organized, and highly-motivated, Evan will be an exceptional addition to our team.”

In December 2017, Southern joined the $765 million Capital Regional District sewage treatment project as director of communications and engagement.

Last fall, the NDP cabinet rubber-stamped Southern’s appointment to the Victoria-Esquimalt Police Board, after he was nominated by the Esquimalt council headed by Mayor Barb Desjardins. 

Desjardins ran unsuccessfully for the BC Liberals in 2017, while Southern was director of operations.  

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