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Bureaucrats expected Les contract controversy

British Columbia government communications staff anticipated tough questions from reporters about how much John Les would be paid to co-chair a review of earthquake readiness in the province.

A nine-page list of answers to 28 questions prepared for Attorney General Suzanne Anton's March 11 announcement was released to The Tyee via freedom of information law from Government Communications and Public Engagement.

GCPE is the central communications hub of government and it is headed by deputy minister Athana Mentzelopoulos, a longtime friend of Premier Christy Clark and one of her closest aides. Clark usually has a morning communications briefing, but it is not known whether she was briefed about the earthquake preparedness review or the size of Les's contract, which she later cancelled.

The document titled Earthquake Prep Review Launch Q&As listed "How much will the co-chairs be paid" third on the list.

"This will be significant work by both of the co-chairs, not only during the consultation process in traveling to communities around the province, but also to those along the U.S. coast," said the script for Anton.

"My expectation is that this is their primary job until the end of the year and we have come to agreement on a fair level of compensation for that work. We have budgeted a total $240,000 for the two co-chair positions. They will be paid at a rate of $125 an hour, but if the work is done earlier, they will only be paid for the time they needed to deliver the final report.

"John Les has a max contract of $140k and Henry Renteria has a max contract of $100k."

The next anticipated question was anticipated to be about the disparity -- why was Les to get $40,000 more?

"As John Les resides in the Lower Mainland area, we anticipate that he may be asked to conduct additional meetings and therefore we have allotted a slightly larger funding envelope to account for this. Both Henry and John bring significant expertise from unique backgrounds as equal co-chairs for this consultation and we look forward to the outcome of their efforts."

Questions about Les's lobbying contracts, his MLA transition payments and overall qualifications were also anticipated.

Q: "How is this review credible when it's a former SG leading it, who arguably, was part of the decision to not add resources to the program when he was minister? Is this just another measure of government providing bonuses to Liberal friends or former colleagues?

Read Anton's scripted answer: "John Les is co-chair, paired with Henry Renteria, former director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. The two are committed to providing a thorough consultation and the former SG is uniquely positioned with direct knowledge of EMBC, the Emergency Program Act and related legislation which positions him as a particularly strong and well suited leader to help facilitate the complexities of the emergency management consultation process.

"John Les also has the firsthand experience of being the mayor of a local government (Chilliwack) and the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

"Combine this with Mr. Renteria's experience and knowledge of systems of readiness outside of BC and the co-chairs are uniquely suited for this position."

Government communications staff anticipated questions about whether the exercise was to pre-empt the auditor general's report or whether the public consultation campaign was "just a knee-jerk exercise of throwing money at a problem."

"How much money is being allocated to this marketing campaign and what does the public education plan contain in it?

Read the script for Anton: "We are announcing that in the coming months we will be launching a public education campaign aimed at getting more British Columbians who live in areas vulnerable to earthquakes to take action and prepare for a seismic event."

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since he began as a journalist in 1990.

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