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Late legislature clerk’s donation of consulting fees to library less than promised

George MacMinn promised to donate after-tax proceeds from a two-year, $500,000 consulting contract
Patrick Donovan/Moment/Getty Images

A former clerk of the B.C. legislature promised in 2012 to rewrite his will and donate after-tax proceeds from his $500,000 consulting contract to the legislative library.

But the legislature received only $100,000 from the estate of the late George MacMinn, who died last August at age 92. He worked a record 54 years as a table officer and wrote the Parliamentary Practice in B.C. guidebook.

When the BC Liberal government chose Craig James to succeed MacMinn in 2011, MacMinn received a $252,560-per-year, two-year contract to act as “clerk consultant.”

In the wake of then-auditor general John Doyle’s scathing summer 2012 report on legislature finances, then-NDP house leader John Horgan deemed MacMinn’s high-priced arrangement “unnecessary.”

"When people retire they get a gold watch and they move away,” Horgan told reporters at the time. “They don't get a two-year contract.”

MacMinn had been the longest-serving table officer anywhere in the Commonwealth, including 18 years as clerk. He buckled to pressure and sent a letter to the all-party legislative assembly management committee (LAMC) in October 2012.

“I have instructed my solicitors to prepare a codicil to my will arranging for $500,000 – less income tax paid – to be paid or transferred to the Legislative Library of British Columbia under the terms and conditions contained in the said codicil, which will be signed on Sept. 1, 2013,” read MacMinn’s letter. “The net result is that all remuneration paid to the consultant will be paid to the Legislative Library.”

Last Friday, at the first LAMC meeting since January, clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd announced that the legislative assembly had received the “generous gift” from MacMinn’s estate.

“In his will, he set aside a $100,000 gift for the benefit of the legislative library,” Ryan-Lloyd said. “I'm now working, at this point, with the director of the legislative library, Peter Gourlay, my colleague, to identify a suitable project to strengthen the library's research collection and to also provide a public benefit.”

Contacted for clarification about the discrepancy, Ryan-Lloyd would only say that $100,000 had been received from MacMinn’s estate.

A copy of MacMinn’s typed Sept. 9, 2019 will was registered Feb. 24 in the Golden court registry. It said MacMinn revoked all previous wills and codicils. At the bottom of the first page, there is a hand-printed and initialled clause that states: “To pay or transfer a cash legacy of $100,000 without interest to the Legislative Library of the Legislative Buildings of Victoria, B.C. for its own use absolutely.”

MacMinn died more than a month after successor James was sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court to a month of house arrest and two months of curfew. James was convicted of fraud and breach of public trust after using taxpayers’ money to buy $1,900 worth of custom shirts and a suit for himself.

Speaker Darryl Plecas and chief of staff Alan Mullen found evidence of corruption in the offices of James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and called in the RCMP to investigate. James and Lenz, who was not charged, both resigned in disgrace in 2019, but kept their pension eligibility.

Meanwhile, the committee also heard that the daycare centre proposed for the parliament buildings is estimated to cost $2 million plus $195,000 for playground equipment. Staff expect to find a not-for-profit operator and finalize construction drawings by November.

It will take 10 to 12 months to build the space for 37 children of those that work at the seat of government.

LAMC members also approved increasing the threshold for legal assistance for lawmakers should they need to retain a civil or criminal lawyer.

They will now be eligible for $10,000 to pay their legal bills, double the previous amount. They are also entitled to a maximum $20,000, double the previous $10,000 ceiling, in case of emergency during a period in which the legislature is dissolved.