Premier Christy Clark said she has asked the BC Liberal Party to stop paying her an annual top up to her public salary since the issue had become a distraction, not because receiving the money was wrong.
“It’s been happening in B.C. for probably 20 years, and fully disclosed and fully acceptable to the conflict commissioner,” Clark told reporters at an unrelated appearance Monday in North Vancouver.
NDP MLA David Eby said he welcomed the news Clark would no longer receive money from the party. “The next step is to enshrine it in law so it’s illegal for an elected cabinet minister or MLA to accept a salary from a second source,” he said.
Since becoming leader of the party in 2011, Clark’s annual public disclosure statements had said that she was receiving pay from the BC Liberal Party, as similar statements had for her predecessor Gordon Campbell.
The amounts were never disclosed, however, until last April following attention in the Globe and Mail, when Clark’s spokesperson Ben Chin confirmed that Clark had by then received $301,900 from the party since 2011. The figure for 2012 was $44,900 and it rose to $50,000 by 2015.
In 2012, when The Tyee asked Clark about the payments, she had said they were “a car allowance” and that she didn’t know how much they were.
The payments were on top of Clark’s taxpayer-funded salary as premier, which for the fiscal year that ended last March was $194,752. She also received $59,371 for travel and $1,216 for a capital city living allowance.
Eby and the advocacy group Democracy Watch had both lodged related complaints with Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser over the payments. In decisions earlier this year, Fraser ruled that Clark didn’t contravene the Conflict of Interest Act by receiving money from the BC Liberals while fundraising at exclusive party events where attendees paid as much as $20,000.
Democracy Watch has asked the Supreme Court of B.C. to quash Fraser’s decisions and send them to a substitute decision-maker for reconsideration. After a Jan. 13 hearing where a lawyer acting for Fraser sought to have the case dismissed, the court is deciding whether to proceed.
Clark’s most recent disclosure form, dated Nov. 2, 2016, listed the “leader’s allowance” from the BC Liberal Party in her sources of income.
That’s where the matter stood until Friday, when Clark told reporters the stipend has “become a real distraction.”
“What we are going to do instead, what I have asked the party to do instead, is ‘Look, let’s get rid of it,’” she said. “Then let’s do what I think all party leaders should do… which is ask instead for reimbursable expenses.”
Asked Monday about what she would have the party pay for, Clark said, “I don’t know what expenses yet, but I’m sure it will certainly be less.”
It was unclear from Clark’s statements when the change will be implemented, whether or not the party previously paid for some of her expenses, and whether she received pay from the party for 2016 or 2017.
Nor was it clear how she would demonstrate to the public that the change had been made. The Georgia Straight wrote on Saturday that the premier should have to make her tax returns public.
A spokesperson for Clark’s office said questions about the stipend should be directed to the party.
“The practice of providing the party leader with an annual stipend to cover expenses associated with their party duties dates back to the 1990s,” a party spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
“Our recent practice has been to provide the stipend each January for the year ahead. The Premier chose not to accept a stipend for 2017 and instead move to direct reimbursement of expenses on a rolling basis.”
He did not respond to a follow-up question about how much the party paid Clark in 2016.
The fact Clark and the party failed since 2012 to be forthcoming about the payments shows why really strong laws are needed, Eby said. “They’ve just been so sketchy about this... They did everything to hide the amount of the payment and what it was for.”
Without such a law, it would be easy for Clark to start receiving pay via the party again, Eby said. “She still doesn’t think that it’s wrong, which makes me wonder if it stops being a distraction if she’ll start taking it again.”