The provincial government was living it up as the economy was crashing, spending more than half-a-million dollars on parties celebrating civil service excellence.
But the government has said those celebrations were necessary to maintain a “high performing workforce” – something that’s “even more important during these challenging times.”
And it has no plans to be a party pooper by discontinuing the annual premier’s innovation and excellence awards, which are meant to recognize the “positive impact the BC Public Service’s work is having across the province.”
According to records exclusively obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request, this year’s awards cost $562,741.52.
They included four regional parties and one provincial party, taking place between January 21 and March 26.
The biggest ticket item was the $137,414.29 spent on videos showcasing nominees and their accomplishments.
But catering and facility costs came in a close second at $125,511.70.
That money bought the ceremonies’ 1,864 attendees some yummy-sounding food.
In Vancouver, for example, civil servants dined on “wedge of romaine hearts with grape tomatoes” featuring “baked pancetta anchovy toasted brioche” and “Parmigiano-Reggiano buttermilk Caesar dressing.”
And that was just the first course.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, bureaucrats were treated to an entrée of “tender breast of chicken stuffed with sliced pear and Brie cheese” served with “asparagus spears, stuffed Roma tomatoes, baby carrots and Gruyere potatoes gratin.”
A government spokesperson stated efforts were made to manage the costs of the ceremonies “as responsibly as possible.”
In fact, they came in $25,058.48 under their $587,800 budget.
That’s principally because of decision not to spend $30,000 on post-ceremony newspaper advertisements announcing the award winners.
The reason: according budget records, it was a “cost-saver due to [the] economic downturn.”
The spokesperson stated it’s “too early” to determine the cost of next year’s awards ceremonies because the “provincial budget is yet to be tabled.”
But Maureen Bader, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s British Columbia director, said there shouldn’t be any cost to be determined.
Instead, according to her, the ceremonies should just be cancelled.
“We’ve got families cutting back – people with low-incomes eating Kraft dinner – and we’ve got bureaucrats dining on romaine hearts. It’s nice to know we have gourmet bureaucrats. However, perhaps it’s time to make a few cutbacks.”
After all, when the government asked civil servants last year "what was the most valuable recognition for a job well done" 26 percent of respondents to the online survey choose a personal note from their supervisor.
By comparison, the least popular choice was the premier’s innovation and excellence awards at just two percent.
British Columbia’s top Olympic bureaucrat got a severance agreement worth more than $300,000 when she left the civil service earlier this year by “mutual consent.”
That’s what Finance Minister Colin Hansen said about Annette Antoniak’s departure to one reporter at the time, telling another it was “a window for her to make a career move.”
But employees who resign don’t usually get a severance agreement.
“If you ask the average taxpayer what they think of that kind of payout, I think they’d be pretty concerned about that,” said New Democrat critic Kathy Corrigan.
She’s also concerned the government didn’t tell the public about that deal.
Instead, it took a freedom of information request filed by Public Eye to reveal the payout.
Much of that nine-page agreement has been blanked-out for privacy reasons.
But the parts that aren’t show Antoniak, the chief executive officer of the Olympic Games secretariat, received a settlement “in the amount of $328,804.”
The province also gave her undisclosed “lump sum payments” connected to the bonuses she was awarded as a senior bureaucrat.
Asked about the deal, a government spokesperson explained even though Antoniak’s “departure was ultimately by mutual agreement, she was entitled to a severance in keeping with public sector guidelines.”
Antoniak – who could not be reached for comment – was replaced by Philip Steenkamp, the former top bureaucrat at the ministry of tourism, culture and the arts.
Sean Holman is editor of the online provincial political news journal Public Eye (publiceyeonline.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.