VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday she didn’t hear about former Chilliwack MLA John Les’ appointment until it was announced, and the deal is off.
Attorney General Suzanne Anton’s announcement Tuesday that Les would be paid up to $140,000 to lead an eight-month consultation on earthquake preparedness was greeted by a storm of controversy.
NDP critics questioned whether Les’ experience as a mayor and solicitor general was relevant to the province-wide project he was to chair. The vice-chair, former director of California’s Office of Emergency Services Henry Renteria, is to be paid up to $100,000.
Clark moved quickly to blunt the opposition attack Wednesday, announcing at the start of question period that the contract with Les has been withdrawn.
“It was a mistake,” Clark told reporters later. “I think the essence of leadership is not just making decisions, it’s also being able to course correct when you’ve made a mistake, and that’s what she [Anton] has done.”
Anton said she discussed the issue with Clark Wednesday morning, and they agreed the expenditure for Les’ services was too high.
The sudden reversal came as the appointment was being questioned by Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore, who said it is inappropriate for Les to take the job while lobbying for the company that operates the Cache Creek landfill.
Les has been a vocal opponent of Metro’s garbage incineration strategy and has lobbied Environment Minister Mary Polak to reject Metro’s new waste disposal bylaw that would end the practice of hauling garbage to cheaper landfills outside the Lower Mainland.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Moore said Wednesday. “To now be representing government to work with us when he’s been so opposed to so much we’ve done – I don’t see how it can actually happen.”
Les, who retired last year after 12 years as MLA, already has a three-year contract to chair the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board, which pays $60,000 a year.
Anton had argued that Les had unique experience as a former mayor and head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as well as a former solicitor general in charge of B.C.’s emergency management program.