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Bills, bills, bills: What BC government spent on travel, cell services, wine and more

The Office of the Premier spent nearly $1,500 at Quail's Gate Vineyard in Kelowna during the year ended March 31, 2013.

The single credit card transaction worth $1,481.06 was at the winery co-owned by BC Liberal Ben Stewart, who was re-elected the Westside-Kelowna MLA on May 14 but stepped aside for Premier Christy Clark who won the July 10 byelection. On provincial election night, Clark lost her Vancouver-Point Grey seat to NDP challenger David Eby.

Quail's Gate chairman Brad Bennett advised Clark during the provincial election and is a director of BC Hydro.

The transaction was reported in payment card spending lists for the fiscal year that were released July 23 with Public Accounts for 2012-2013.

Clark and her staff spent $402,848.38 last year, down from the previous year's $475,015.19, which included $3,110 on B.C. Lions tickets and various $2,000 to $3,000 dinner parties at some of Vancouver's top restaurants.

Payment card purchases by Clark's staff included one transaction for $4,976.50 from Artina's Jewellery in Victoria. Press secretary Samuel Oliphant did not immediately respond to queries on July 23.

The biggest non-travel cost for the premier's office appeared to be for mobile phone service. There were 10 entries for 97 transactions with Rogers totaling $96,434.82. One entry for 60 transactions included $31,831.70 for Telus Mobility.

The Forestry Ministry was the biggest user of credit cards, racking up a $10,099,795.63 bill for the year.

Clark was paid $82,606 on top of her $102,138 MLA salary. She expensed only $2,767 for capital city living allowance but charged $69,100 travel for the fiscal year. Her assistant, Gabe Garfinkel, racked up one of the biggest travel bills in government at $60,307.

Government spent $41.343 million overall on travel, of which $800,000 was for the premier and ministers, $724,000 for deputy and assistant deputy ministers and $235,000 for capital city allowances. Travel expenditures fell from $48.312 million in 2011-2012.

MLAs were paid $9.228 million of the overall $2,367,059 in salary and benefits paid by government. John Dyble, Clark's deputy minister, was the highest paid deputy minister at $305,945 plus $29,247 travel.

Meanwhile, in Question Period on July 23, NDP critic Mike Farnworth noted that Public Accounts disclosed a $5.6 billion rise in the province's debt to $55.8 billion and forecast another $6 billion next year.

"The hypocrisy is that the government ran around this province (during the election) proclaiming Debt-Free B.C. and we're having the fastest debt growth in the history of the province of British Columbia," said Farnworth. "But it's not just the debt.

"It's contractual obligations, which in 2006 stood at $34 billion and in 2013 stand at $100 billion, that include $55 billion in private power contracts that are driving up costs and rates at BC Hydro. And of course, the public is kept in the dark about the details of these contracts."

Finance Minister Mike de Jong downplayed Farnworth's debt criticism by claiming that B.C.'s debt-to-GDP ratio is 17 per cent, 0.6 per cent lower than projected.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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