Christy Clark may miss Gordon Campbell's lackey, Bill Barisoff, but others won't
The Speaker of the B.C. legislature, Bill Barisoff, will not seek reelection next year. No doubt, this will come as a relief to those who've disapproved of the South Okanagan B.C. Liberal MLA's actions over the years.
One of the biggest uproars in recent history was the Order of B.C. granted to former premier Gordon Campbell. Barisoff, who collects $153,000 per year as Speaker, was on the committee that granted this honour to his former boss shortly after he left politics. Barisoff was always an ardent Campbell lackey.
The committee, which included Barisoff, also presented the Order of B.C. to Campbell's top deputy, Ken Dobell, even though he had been found guilty of violating provincial lobbyist legislation. At that time, two long-retired NDP premiers, Dave Barrett and Mike Harcourt, hadn't been deemed worthy of the Order of B.C.
More recently, Barisoff came under fire for his reckless oversight of the legislature's $69-million budget. As Speaker since 2005, Barisoff had plenty of time to address the problem.
This year, Auditor General John Doyle revealed in a scathing review that MLAs were charging travel expenses without supplying documentation. In addition, the legislature didn't even create an audited financial report.
Barisoff chaired the committee overseeing the legislature's operations.
In 2003, the Georgia Straight felt Barisoff's wrath when he oversaw the ministry of provincial revenue.
The paper was presented with a monumental tax bill because Barisoff's ministry auditors, in all their wisdom, concluded that the Georgia Straight did not meet the definition of a newspaper under the Social Service Tax Act. Therefore, the Straight wasn't eligible for the same tax exemption on newsprint that was granted to other publishers, including Black Press and CanWest Global Communications Corp., which were donors to the B.C. Liberals.
As a result of this ruling, the Straight was expected to turn over $1 million to the government over a four-year period.
The Straight spent tens of thousands on legal bills without making any progress for months with Barisoff's ministry. It was only after the company held a news conference that the winds began to change.
Then-NDP MLA Joy MacPhail brought up the tax bill in the legislature, asking if the premier would conduct an independent evaluation. The B.C. Liberal politician who responded on Barisoff's behalf, Stan Hagen, sidestepped the question.
Eventually, the government capitulated, but there was never any apology from the premier, Barisoff, or his then deputy, Chris Trompy (now chair of the Pacific Carbon Trust) for all the trouble and expense they caused.
Later, the Straight discovered that under Barisoff's authority, government tax auditors were ranked by how much money they raised. A Lower Mainland team's performance was described as "excellent" because it recovered almost $1.57 million in a month.
The ministry later came under repeated fire from Vancouver Sun columnist Don Cayo for its treatment of small-to-medium-size businesses.
The Straight also learned later that its freedom-of-information request about provincial sales-tax issues was slapped with a "high" sensitivity rating by Barisoff's ministry. At the time, the B.C. government imposed ratings—"high", "medium", or "low"—on all access requests. To no one's surprise, those requests with "high" sensitivity took longer to process.
Not long after this fiasco, Barisoff was transferred from the provincial revenue ministry to become the minister of land, water and air protection. He served there for a little while before becoming Speaker.
Here's what Premier Christy Clark had to say about Barisoff's pending departure from provincial politics: "Over his storied career in Victoria, Bill has earned the respect of all and will be missed, not just by his fellow MLAs but also by the staff at the Legislative Assembly....Today is a day to celebrate the distinguished career of Bill Barisoff."
It's easy to see why MLAs are celebrating. They never had to submit any receipts whenever they wanted to travel on the taxpayers' dime. There were never rewards for any auditors who wanted to sniff into this area as long as Barisoff was the Speaker.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.