Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell received nearly $600,000 in consulting fees for about five months' work as head of a commission examining Manitoba Hydro megaprojects before stepping down in February 2019, the Free Press has learned.
According to documents obtained through freedom of information legislation, Campbell billed the government for $593,962 for work done between September 2018 and February 2019. His appointment was announced in October 2018.
Campbell relinquished the role a few days after a British newspaper reported he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation being conducted by London police.
In addition to his fees, Campbell's commission racked up more than $76,000 in expenses, pushing the total cost to $670,755.
According to a printout obtained by the Free Press, expenses included everything from stationery supplies ($8,467) to legal services ($23,050), teleconferencing costs ($1,290) and jugs of water ($121.78).
The Pallister government's decision to appoint a commission to examine decisions relating to the construction of the Keeyask Generating Station and the Bipole III power transmission line was controversial.
Critics said the two projects had already received a great deal of scrutiny by the Public Utilities Board of Manitoba as well as from a review done by Hydro, with the help of an outside consultant, after the Progressive Conservatives were sworn into government in 2016.
The government gave Campbell a budget of $2.5 million and a deadline of December 2019 to complete his work.
After he departed, it took the government eight months to hire his replacement. In October, another former premier, Saskatchewan's Brad Wall, was brought on to complete the job. His report is due this fall.
In an interview Tuesday, Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton sought to assure the public that the money paid to Campbell was not wasted.
He said the government is not spending additional money on the review other than what was previously authorized, and that Wall will complete the work with the roughly $1.8 million that is left.
Wharton said Campbell "put a lot of time," into laying the groundwork for the review, developing procedures and "collecting and reviewing pertinent reports and documents."
The former B.C. Liberal premier also did "some key interviews," with individuals who had "insight into the projects," he said.
"(Wall) can move forward with the amount of information that Mr. Campbell acquired," the minister said.
Opposition politicians took a dim view of the hefty consulting fees paid to Campbell.
"That's two-thirds of a million dollars flushed down the drain," said Liberal leader Dougald Lamont.
"Why are we paying political friends of the premier millions of dollars for Monday morning quarterbacking, which is what this is?" he said.
"That's two–thirds of a million dollars flushed down the drain." –Liberal leader Dougald Lamont
The $4.7-billion Bipole III transmission line is now in service. The $8.7-billion Keeyask station comes on stream late this year.
Both projects went billions of dollars over-budget.
NDP MLA Adrien Sala called the review a "huge waste of taxpayer funds," that could be used to invest in Hydro to keep rates low.
"It is concerning that we're seeing that level of compensation for a grand total of five months' work," Sala said of Campbell's fee.
The NDP has decried the review as a political exercise that could set the stage for selling off portions of Hydro or privatizing it. The government denies the accusations.
Wharton said the government hopes to learn from the mistakes of the past so that Manitobans get better value for their tax dollars in the future.
"We know that Manitobans are smart shoppers, and we want to make sure that any projects of this magnitude are done with the lens of being a smart shopper," the minister said.
Wharton, who was named Crown Services minister at the end of September, said he is pleased with the progress Wall is making since he was named last fall.
He said he's met with Wall's staff on a regular basis but has yet to meet the former premier since his appointment. He said he looks forward to meeting with him shortly.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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