Monday, September 28, 2009


Gordo's $138,000 playpen for paper pushers (with photos) plus other atrocities

B.C. Liberals spend $138,000 on "work-free zone" for bureaucrats, with Nintendo Wii and easy chairs

By Michael Smyth
The Province - September 28, 2009

The Health and Wellness Centre Facility for employees at the Ministry of Environment office in Victoria, B.C. September 21, 2009.

Click HERE for the full column and 3 Photograph[s] by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist

VICTORIA — It’s 11 a.m. and the pedestrians bustling by the Environment Ministry building in a high-rent commercial district of Victoria would be forgiven for thinking busy civil servants are hunkered down and toiling away inside.

But press your nose against the frosted-glass windows and you can make out something else: Three guys shooting a game of pool, two young people whooping it up over a spirited game of foosball and a couple of middle-management types enjoying a friendly ping-pong match.

Welcome to the “work-free zone” — the government’s new “wellness centre” for civil servants.

It also features a plush video-game lounge complete with sofa, easy chairs and a 50-inch plasma TV with surround sound and Nintendo Wii console.

A note pinned to the wall indicates Dance Revolution 2 is the current favourite.

The cost of this romper room for desk jockeys?

A cool $45,000 to renovate the space and install the games, plus $85,000 a year in rent, about $5,000 a year for utilities and maintenance and $3,100 a year for leased equipment in an adjoining yoga studio.

That’s more than $138,000 this year alone — and all while the government cancels surgeries and cuts community grants to save money in tough times. {Snip} ...

The $138,000 play room for civil servants is just one.

Here are some others, along with a chance to blow the whistle on government waste yourself:

B.C. Rail - Taxpayers might be surprised to learn B.C. Rail still exists, never mind that it’s still draining their wallets.

Even though the government sold the B.C. Rail business — including all rolling stock — to private-sector CN Rail for $1 billion six years ago, the Crown corporation still exists, complete with a president making a half-million dollars a year.

B.C. Rail has a second $268,000-a-year president in charge of real-estate holdings (the government still owns the tracks, railbed and a 40-kilometre spur line) and two other senior managers bagging each more than $200,000.

All told, taxpayers are paying a quartet of executives $1.2 million a year to run a money-losing, 40-kilometre railroad with 24 employees and no trains.

[Michael Smyth's complete column is exciting reading. Click here.]

“People certainly have concerns and have expressed them,” admits Transportation Minister Shirley Bond, who revealed B.C. Rail is under the cost-cutting microscope.

Is B.C. Rail on a one-way track to the same destination as Tourism B.C.?

The government shut down that Crown corporation last month, fired its CEO and merged its functions with the tourism ministry.

Gag-law appeal - Nothing gets a lawyer’s heart pumping faster than the words “billable hours” — and the government’s decision to appeal the court ruling against its own election gag law means that taxpayers will pay through the nose for legal fees.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in April that spending restrictions on third-party election advertising contravened freedom-of-speech rights in the Constitution.

Rather than live by the ruling, the governing Liberals are taking the case to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

How much will that cost taxpayers?

“I don’t know,” said Attorney-General Mike de Jong. “I’ll see if there’s an estimate available.”

No estimate had arrived by press time, but a legal opinion obtained by the Opposition New Democratic Party pegs the cost at $200,000 and potentially much more, if the case goes all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ironically, the NDP passed a similar gag law when they were in power — and guess who went ballistic?

“Immoral and undemocratic,” was then-justice-critic Mike de Jong’s charge.

The NDP’s gag law was ruled unconstitutional, too, but there was no appeal.

The Liberals should drop this costly case.

Olympic splurging - Most British Columbians support the Olympics, but why should the government buy $1.4 million worth of 2010 tickets on their dime?

That’s how much three Crown corporations — B.C. Hydro, ICBC and B.C. Lotteries — are spending on Olympic tickets for their executives, staff, clients and contest-winners. Luckily, VANOC is setting up a website for people to sell their unwanted tickets, so the government could easily unload them.

Meanwhile, taxpayers will also cough up millions to pay civil servants seconded to work on the Olympics for up to six months.

But if the government can do without their services for that long, are they really necessary employees?

Or simply part of a bloated bureaucracy?

Public-affairs bureau - Speaking of bloat, this is the branch of government that monitors and manages the news.

But the biggest news of all is how this collective of spin-doctors has grown in size and cost: $28 million this year and a staff of 197 — the largest communications apparatus in B.C. history.

The Liberals did lay off eight people in this office last month — a good start for a branch of government ripe for downsizing.

The $7-million advertising budget should feel the scalpel, too.

Colossal cabinet - When Premier Gordon Campbell unveiled his new cabinet in June, he was widely expected to set a cost-cutting example by bringing in a smaller group of front-benchers. Instead, the cabinet ranks swelled from 22 to 24 ministers — a nine-per-cent increase at a massive cost to taxpayers.

Some average annual cabinet costs: $600,000 to run a minister’s office, $220,000 for a deputy minister’s salary, $75,000 in ministerial travel expenses and $50,930 in ministerial bonus pay.

A smaller cabinet would mean big savings for taxpayers.

Campbell instead appointed one of the largest cabinets ever, including three — count ’em, three — ministers with responsibility for amateur sports.

He also anointed six Liberal MLAs as “parliamentary secretaries,” each earning more than $15,000 in bonus pay.

Soaring salaries - The government ordered a review of executive salaries at B.C. Ferries and TransLink after Transportation Minister Shirley Bond expressed shock that Ferries boss David Hahn was making $1 million a year.

Executive-booty hauls at TransLink have soared by up to 77 per cent.

But the government should be checking out the executive pay packets at places such as the provincial health authorities, too, where top bureaucrats made more than $10 million in 2007-08.

“We’re looking at an accountability measurement on their pay,” Health Minister Kevin Falcon revealed.

“It will take a portion of their salary and make sure it is only paid on performance objectives like financial targets and better patient outcomes.”

And now it’s your turn: Are you aware of wasteful government spending that should be stopped?

Have you ever witnessed wasteful government practices and wished you could do something about it?

E-mail your tips, anonymously if you prefer, and I will try to check out your leads for a follow-up column.

Because, before the government cuts spending on public services, it must stop wasteful spending of the public’s money.

And that $138,000 playpen for paper pushers? It should be the first to go.

The president and vice-president of BC Rail plus two others are taking home $1.2 million of BC taxpayers' dollars each year ... which surely must mean that they are still answerable to their employers: the people of B.C. So how long does everybody tiptoe around them, never asking a single question, because "it" is before the court? - BC Mary.


Yay Michael Smyth!!! Let's hope this gets a huge ball rolling.
It is about time for the MSM to get up on their hind legs. Gordo is done, now after his associates. Speaking of bloat! Give us our province back.
I find it somewhat pathetic that MSM mothpieces key in on things like this $138,000 when the real fiscal mismanagement is more easily counted in the Billions. Half a billion over on the convention centre. The billions of commuter train and bus system screw-ups. The billion-dollar sell-off of our money-making railway for which we only get half . The failure of the Campbell government to open its books on the railway sale to the public. It's as though those jokers believe we are working for them...the list goes on and on.

Yes, the $138,000 may have been enough to rehire 2 or 3 of the many conservation officers that have been given the pink slip by that ministry so that business could "self-regulate"! Yes, it is just like the liberals to give themselves a $85,000 dollar a year rec room when they are cutting back services; but, Micheal Smythe is giving us minnows when there are much bigger fish he should be frying on a daily basis.
To Sharing is Good. Michael Smyth invited readers to convey such concerns to him. Please do so. The massive fiscal mismanagement you mention needs to get all the public airing possible.

I know what you mean about the $138,000 compared to what the King and his friends are taking home (I too would like to see the biggest crimes exposed), but let's try to use the wedge when it presents itself.
Bloody Hell!
Quite the legacy.
$5 Billion super PortMann, Cash to liberals while there is the opportunity, $40 million on Rovson square upgrades.
This Man is either very confident or planning on retiring as premier. Maybe the NDP are just too week to be effective as a threat.
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