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B.C. sunshine list shows big swing in government communications spending

Public accounts also for 2022-23 also reveal B.C.’s highest paid public executives
For the 2022-23 fiscal year, B.C.'s cabinet authorized spending another $13.86 million on top of the Government Communications and Public Engagement department’s original $28.34 million budget for promoting the government’s agenda – a 49-per-cent increase

The BC NDP government added almost $14 million in tax dollars to the budget for the public relations department during the last fiscal year. 

The government’s public accounts for the year ended March 31, 2023, released Wednesday, show cabinet authorized spending another $13.86 million on top of the Government Communications and Public Engagement department’s original $28.34 million appropriation for promoting the government’s agenda. The net budget variance on the revised $42.2 million budget was an extra $9.5 million. 

The list of suppliers in Premier David Eby’s government sunshine list shows that the media buying contractor iProspect Inc. billed $26.8 million for the year, a significant jump from $15.75 million a year earlier when Japanese-owned iProspect merged with Vizeum Canada, which supplied $4.7 million worth of services. 

Even when the aggregate payments are combined, the government spent $6 million more on buying TV, radio, newspaper, outdoor and digital ads in the fiscal year that saw John Horgan cede the provincial government’s leadership to Eby.

Eby hired former Now Communications Group president Marie Della Mattia as his deputy minister of government communications when he succeeded Horgan in November. Della Mattia’s former company, which counts her sister Michele as a vice-president, billed taxpayers $1.57 million for work last year. 

NDP pollster Strategic Communications Inc., whose former president Matt Smith is Eby’s chief of staff, billed just under $150,000. 

Now also appears on the legislative assembly’s list of suppliers at $156,467, a little more than the $125,528 charged by another NDP-aligned company, Romar Communications. Romar also appears in the main list of government suppliers at $60,655 and its co-owner Robb Gibbs is a former assistant deputy minister of government communications who is married to Marie Della Mattia. 

Legislative assembly clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd was the highest-paid employee at the seat of government, at $300,512, followed by law clerk Seunghee Seo ($245,374) and chief information officer Andrew Spence ($205,005). 

The four biggest suppliers to the legislature were technology-related: CDW Canada ($1.43 million), Microsoft Canada ($1.001 million), Tecnet ($862,765) and Compugen ($681,935). 

Leading the public sector pay parade last year, with a total compensation package of more than $1.3 million, was Thomas Bechard, president of BC Hydro’s power trading arm Powerex. 

Bechard received a base $387,504 salary, $561,599 bonus, $20,214 in benefits, $30,952 in pension and $307,893 in other payments. The latter was primarily the payout from a 2018 performance incentive. 

Bechard’s pay was more than double the $629,766 total for BC Hydro CEO Chris O’Riley. 

BC Securities Commission head Brenda Leong ($553,748), WorkSafeBC CEO Anne Naser ($527,253) and former Insurance Corp. of British Columbia CEO Nicolas Jimenez ($524,780) had bigger packages than Shayne Ramsay, who received $509,059 after leaving BC Housing in 2022. 

Though Ramsay announced his retirement at the end of July last year, a note on the BC Housing compensation report shows that his retirement was officially effective on Jan. 31 of this year. Ramsay had a $269,531 base salary, $100,544 vacation payout, $61,742.78 in retirement allowance, $5,936.81 vacation top-up and $29,782.41 for a grandfathered earned bank plan payout. 

Ramsay was the subject of an Ernst and Young report earlier this year that showed he was in a conflict of interest over awarding contracts to his wife Janice Abbott’s social housing agency, Atira. 

The average total compensation of the other five BC Housing executives listed was more than $284,000. 

University of Victoria president Kevin Hall’s $497,121 eclipsed Simon Fraser University’s Joy Johnson’s $486,315. At the University of British Columbia, provost Gage Averill’s $450,648 was the highest paid. 

Santa Ono left UBC to become the University of Michigan’s 15th president in October. He had a total compensation of $345,872. His interim replacement at Point Grey, Deborah Buszard, was paid $220,751 through fiscal year-end. 

Susan Brown of Interior Health was the highest-paid regional health authority CEO at $449,647, followed by Fraser Health’s Dr. Victoria Lee ($447,181).

At B.C. Lottery Corp., Patrick Davis began the year as chief information officer before his August promotion to president. His total payday was $449,288. BC Pavilion Corp. CEO Ken Cretney ($349,316) and Royal B.C. Museum’s former CEO Alicia Dubois ($347,292) earned more than PartnershipsBC’s Mark Liederman ($336,954).