Premier John Horgan’s legacy when he steps down this fall will include his record as a job creator in his own office, where millions of dollars have been spent on new hires.
In the 2021 budget, the Office of the Premier was allotted $14.68 million, a whopping $3.34 million increase from a year earlier. The office got a further $14,000 top-up in the 2022 budget.
The total number of people employed a year after the snap 2020 election grew to almost 100, according to a payroll list obtained under freedom of information. Horgan’s office includes the intergovernmental relations secretariat, cabinet operations, executive and support services and the planning and priorities secretariat.
The latter was created after the 2020 election, costs $1.6 million a year and includes 10 new hires tasked to work with ministries on cabinet social, economic and environmental initiatives.
The heart of Horgan’s office is the executive branch, which includes political staff and correspondence clerks. A background note for 2021 budget estimates hearings said there were 27 political staffers as of June 2021 and eight others in the correspondence unit.
“Salary costs for executive operations of the Premier's Office are approximately $2.7 million,” said the briefing note. “In July 2017 under the BC Liberal government, the executive branch had a total of 21 [full-time equivalents] and salary cost of $1.77 million.”
Documents show that there were 86 people on the payroll in August 2020, the month before the snap election. In October 2021, which had three pay periods, there were 97 employed and the total gross payroll for that month was $1.072 million.
The reason for the hiring spree? “To meet the needs of a majority government and respond effectively to COVID and recovery,” the briefing note said.
The highest-paid employee in October 2021’s payroll was Lori Wanamaker, the Deputy Minister to the Premier ($38,438), followed by special advisor John Allan ($34,929) and Deputy Minister of Special Initiatives Jill Kot, ($29,244). The top two officials in the intergovernmental relations secretariat and the assistant deputy minister of policy and coordination were the other bureaucrats making more than $24,000 in October 2021.
Meanwhile, Horgan’s chief of staff Geoff Meggs was the highest-paid political appointee, at $24,051, along with Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategic Issues Eric Kristianson ($18,507), Assistant Deputy Minister of Planning and Priorities Secretariat Donna Sanford ($18,435) and Deputy Chiefs of Staff Amber Hockin ($18,073) and Don Bain ($17,979).
There were seven people titled deputy minister or assistant deputy minister, nine executive directors, 12 directors and 14 assistants.
During the 2022 budget estimates hearing on June 1, Horgan said that the planning and priorities secretariat is similar to other jurisdictions in Canada and was created “to better support cabinet operations, to ensure timely understanding of issues as they emerge and to make sure that the appropriate work can be done.”
BC Liberal opposition leader Kevin Falcon said he struggled to understand the spending increase, because an additional office was not needed when he was in cabinet between 2001 and 2012.
“Quite frankly, it sounds to me like a lot more people just spending a lot more time pushing a lot more paper and having a lot more meetings without a discernible improved outcome,” Falcon said on June 1.
The estimates note also said the Office of the Premier spent $259,000 on contractors in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2021, including $138,493 on strategic advisor Robert Dewar and $50,000 on five, short-term, no-bid agreements for an unusual, post-2020 election transition team.
Transition teams are traditionally struck only when there is a new premier.
In Horgan’s case, he hired Robert Chamberlin ($1,750), Roshan Danesh Law Corp. ($8,000), Raj Sihota ($14,945), Emily Rose White ($14,374) and Stewart Group Strategic Consulting ($10,000). Sihota was the NDP’s executive director through the 2020 election. Stewart Group president Lecia Stewart was the NDP-appointed chair of BC Ferries.
NDP finance minister Selina Robinson is expected sometime this month to release the government’s public accounts for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Horgan has continued his public lobbying for billions of dollars of additional federal healthcare funds. He flippantly suggested the purchase of a newspaper ad to convince the federal Liberal government to send more money after Order of B.C. recipient Nadine Mort bought space in the Victoria Times Colonist in a desperate measure to find a doctor to write a prescription for her husband.
On June 28, Horgan announced he would retire from the premiership when the NDP chooses a successor. Party members are scheduled to vote Dec. 3. The only declared candidate is David Eby, who could be acclaimed if nobody else enters by Oct. 4.