VICTORIA - It doesn't have that saucy allure of Real Housewives of Vancouver, but after Tuesday's revelations from British Columbia's legislature, Big Spending Clerks has the potential to become a new reality show.
Retirement contracts worth $500,000, taxpayer-funded trips to Africa — spouses, too — spa stays in Arizona — British Columbia's clerks appear anything but mild mannered.
Long-time clerk of the B.C. legislature George MacMinn, who retired last year after 54 years on duty, and his replacement, Craig James, are under the political microscope for receiving gold-plated treatment from the pockets of provincial taxpayers.
MacMinn's $500,000, post-retirement consulting package prompted a political review and James's $43,000 in travel expenses while heading up ElectionsBC, the province's elections monitor, resulted in travel policy adjustments at the agency.
James vigorously defended himself Tuesday, saying his spouse came along because he got a deal that amounted to a free ticket for her and that a conference he was attending happened to be going on at a spa.
The members of the much-maligned all-party political committee that oversees the financial operations of the B.C. legislature took aim at MacMinn's two-year retirement contract during and after Tuesday's first-ever public meeting.
"It strikes me that a $250,000 a year contribution to a clerk consultant is unnecessary," said Opposition New Democrat committee member John Horgan.
"When people retire they get a gold watch and they move away. They don't get a two-year contract."
Horgan said he was concerned the job description details of MacMinn's two-year consulting contract are not known. He wondered if the contract could also cover other expenses, including "club fees."
The committee, which includes three Liberals, Speaker of the Legislature Bill Barisoff, and two New Democrats, agreed to examine MacMinn's contract.
James told the committee MacMinn's contract was legally binding over the two years and if it was challenged, could "end up costing the legislative assembly a whole lot more."
James, who replaced MacMinn last year, told the committee he's committed to full financial and political accountability under his watch.
Earlier this summer, Auditor General John Doyle delivered a scathing report on the management of the legislature, revealing a mess in the legislature's books that made it impossible to conclude if money was being spent or misspent.
Doyle's report found that MLA credit card bills are being paid without receipts and the legislative assembly hasn't produced financial statements despite a 2007 recommendation from the previous auditor general.
James said his office has made great strides towards cleaning up the books and he intends on making the legislature a "shining model of accountability."
"I will not have my name attached to a bad audit," he told the committee.
But minutes after the committee's historic first public meeting adjourned, a B.C.-based political watchdog group, IntegrityBC, released documents obtained under a freedom of information request, detailing James's travel expenses while he was the acting chief of Elections BC, the province's electoral monitor.
"British Columbians paid thousands of dollars for the former head of Elections BC to take his wife on a business trip to Africa and for him to later stay at an exclusive private club in Washington, D.C. and an Arizona resort," said an IntegrityBC statement.
IntegrityBC said James’s $43,295 bill for travel expenses between Aug. 25 and Dec. 12, 2010. Elections BC confirmed there are new travel rules that bar officials from travelling in business class.
IntegrityBC said James travelled to Nairobi, Kenya, with his wife, to attend a Commonwealth Parliamentary conference and also stayed at exclusive resorts in Washington, DC and Phoenix, Arizona.
James confirmed the travel costs but denied they were lavish or exclusive.
He said he often saves money because political and financial organizations cover some of his costs. James said IntegrityBC never called him to get his side of the story.
"It's not factual and it's a disappointing feature of somebody who would call themselves IntegrityBC," said James.
He confirmed spending $14,523 for two business class seats to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in Nairobi, Kenya with his wife.
James said the flight was a deal under a group rate obtained through a travel agent that ended up costing less than a single fare on Air Canada.
ElectionsBC travel entitlements at that time permitted the splitting of airfare costs up to and including business class fares with another person. The entitlements have since been dropped.
James said his $399-per-night stay, plus taxes, at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix coincided with a conference at the facility.
MacMinn declined to comment.
Also on HuffPost:
Top 5 Political Spending Scandals
Here are a few examples of some red-faced moments in public expense reports, in which those involved likely wished they had gone back and done -- or in the case of David Dingwall, said -- a few things differently.<br><br><em>With files from CBC</em><br><br>(CP/Getty)
5. Cleaning The Moat
Britain's parliamentarians became embroiled in scandal in 2009 over their declared expenses after the Daily Telegraph obtained an uncensored copy of their claims and published them.<br><br> Details disclosed by the newspaper showed how MPs from all parties manipulated rules by routinely switching the designation of their second home -- using public money to furnish and improve several properties and later sell them at a profit.<br><br> Facing fierce public fury as embarrassing details emerged daily, nearly 400 British MPs, including then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, were ordered to pay back close to $2 million in wrongfully claimed expenses.<br><br> But amid the outrage, one the most publicized cases was of that then Conservative MP Douglas Hogg, who was alleged to have expensed the cleaning of a moat at his family's country estate. Hogg agreed to repay the cost of cleaning the moat, but insisted he had only listed the cleaning cost as an expenditure on his house and never asked to be reimbursed. He decided not to stand for his seat in the 2010 election.<br><br> (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)
4. EHealth Ontario
A scandal broke out in Ontario in 2009 over wasteful and untendered consulting contracts at eHealth, a provincial Crown corporation charged with creating an electronic health records system. The controversy over eHealth's spending led to the resignation of then Health Minister David Caplan.<br><br> Among the embarrassing revelations at eHealth, CBC News obtained documents that showed consultants, contracted by eHealth at up to $2,750 a day, billed taxpayers for out-of-pocket expenses that included $1.65 for a cup of tea and $3.99 for cookies.<br><br> The documents said eHealth CEO and president Sarah Kramer billed thousands of dollars for limousine rides, including one $400 trip from Toronto to London, Ont., before she left her $380,000-a-year job in June of that year.<br><br>(CP)
3. Nova Scotia MLA Scandal
Nova Scotia's provincial legislature was rocked by a report by the provincial auditor general that found that many MLAs submitted questionable expense claims over a number of years. The affair evolved into a criminal investigation that led to several MLAs resigning and at least one former member being sentenced to prison.<br><br> Ex-Liberal MLA Dave Wilson, pictured, pleaded guilty to defrauding Nova Scotia taxpayers of nearly $61,000 to support his gambling addiction and was sentenced last week to nine months of jail time and 18 months of probation. Crown attorneys in his case detailed how Wilson submitted 36 false expense receipts using five people's names -- including his niece and brother-in-law -- totalling $60,995. Wilson apologized to his family and the people of the province, telling the court he was deeply ashamed of his actions.<br><br>(CP)
2. George Radwanski
Former federal privacy commissioner George Radwanski resigned in 2003 under a cloud following intense scrutiny of his spending. At the time, Radwanski blamed "a powerful political backlash from some who would prefer a less forceful privacy commissioner." His severance package was initially $82,562, but later cut to nothing.<br><br> Radwanski resigned after a Commons committee called for a full audit of Radwanski's expense claims, which included more than $500,000 in travel claims, $250 drinks tabs and dinner bills of more than $450, usually shared with one staff member.<br><br> Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report called for an RCMP investigation of Radwanski after her department's audit revealed "a major failure of management controls and the abuse of public funds by the former commissioner and some senior executives, for their personal benefit."<br><br> In 2009, an Ontario judge acquitted Radwanski of criminal fraud charges, but criticized his "negligent and cavalier" approach to accounting for controversial expenses he claimed while in office. Radwanski's former chief of staff, Art Lamarche, was convicted of breach of trust. Radwanski acknowledged he wished he had done some things differently, but insisted he "never acted dishonestly or knowingly improperly in any way." <br><br>(CP)
1. 'I'm Entitled To My Entitlements'
In February 2006, former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall was awarded $417,780 in compensation after an independent arbitrator concluded he was forced out of his $277,000-a-year job as head of the Royal Canadian Mint.<br><br> His removal from the head of the Crown corporation came amid a frenzy caused by unproven allegations that he and his office made improper and excessive expense claims, as the then Liberal government was reeling from the inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal.<br><br> Opposition MPs, including then Opposition Leader Stephen Harper, portrayed the Dingwall case as a sign of Liberal misspending, accusing him of wasting taxpayers' money on reimbursement claims for expensive meals, excessive travel and even a pack of chewing gum. In the midst of the controversy over his resignation and compensation package, Dingwall drew the scorn of opposition parties when he said the now notorious words to a Commons committee: "I'm entitled to my entitlements."<br><br> Harper's party picked up the phrase and used it repeatedly as an example of Liberal arrogance during the campaign leading up to the Jan. 23, 2006, general election.<br><br> In fact, an independent audit of the expenses by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers later found that more than 70 per cent of them were incurred by other employees in Dingwall's office at the Mint, and that all the payments had been properly approved under the Crown corporation's guidelines.<br><br> A second independent review by law firm Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt concluded the governance of expendures at the Mint went "well beyond what one could expect to find in most private-sector corporations."<br><br>(CP)