03/12/2014 06:30 EDT | Updated 05/12/2014 05:59 EDT

John Les' Earthquake Monitor Job Makes NDP Shake With Anger


VICTORIA - B.C. Premier Christy Clark says she's taken action to ensure there are no political aftershocks connected to the appointment and subsequent withdrawal of an earthquake preparedness post handed to a former Liberal cabinet minister.

Clark said Wednesday after meeting with Attorney General Suzanne Anton the decision was made to drop John Les and his $140,000 contract as co-chairman of the earthquake preparedness consultation team.

The Opposition New Democrats, who called Les's appointment political patronage of seismic proportions, immediately applauded Clark's decision to dump the former solicitor general.

The party also urged the premier to quash other appointments, including jobs handed to former NDP cabinet minister Gordon Wilson and former Kelowna Liberal MLA Ben Stewart.

Les's removal from the consultation team came less than 24 hours after Anton announced his appointment and proclaimed him as best suited for the post because of his experience as a cabinet minister and former mayor of Chilliwack, B.C.

Clark bluntly called Anton's decision to appoint Les a mistake.

"Part of leadership is being able to course-correct, and being able to admit when mistakes are being made," she said at a news conference after announcing to the legislature that she was withdrawing the Les appointment. "That's what the Attorney General did today, and as I said, people do make mistakes and part of leadership is fixing them."

Clark did not call Les's appointment an act of political patronage, but she said his $140,000 contract did not fit properly with the Liberal government's aims to keep a tight hold on costs.

The premier said she would not rescind Stewart's earlier appointment as one of the government's point men on Asia-Pacific trade. Stewart vacated his Kelowna seat last year to allow Clark to run in a byelection after she lost her Vancouver seat in last May's provincial election.

Les, a one-time solicitor general who did not seek re-election last year, was to work alongside a former emergency official from California as co-chairman in the earthquake consultations.

The Fraser Valley political stalwart had already been appointed to the Farm Industry Review Board, for which he receives up to $60,000 a year. He is also eligible for a taxpayer-funded pension for his time in the legislature.

"The only thing that he qualifies for is being an ex-Liberal minister, a Liberal insider," said Shane Simpson, an NDP critic. "There's some claim he has particular expertise. There's certainly no evidence of that. This is simply more pork-barrelling."

Les left cabinet in 2008 amid accusations that he improperly benefited from a land deal while mayor of Chilliwack, though a special prosecutor later cleared him of wrongdoing.

Les registered as a lobbyist last year for the Seabird Island Indian Band and Belkorp Environmental Services Inc., according to the province's lobbyist registry.

Among his intended lobbying targets was Anton. The lobbyist registry doesn't indicate whether Les has actually met Anton in his lobbying capacity.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier story said Clark met with Anton on Tuesday.

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