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BC's man in Beijing well taken care of by taxpayers

Ex-Westside-Kelowna BC Liberal MLA Ben Stewart, who stepped aside so Premier Christy Clark could return to the British Columbia legislature, was granted five weeks of vacation and five round-trip airfares annually as part of his post in Beijing.

Stewart's appointment was made Oct. 25 by order-in-council and announced Oct. 28. On Oct. 29, the terms of his assignment were described in a letter from Minister of International Trade Teresa Wat.

The letter, obtained via Freedom of Information, said Stewart is accountable to Wat, but reports to deputy minister Shannon Baskerville for his $150,000-a-year job. He is also entitled to an extra eight per cent in lieu of employer pension contributions.

Stewart was authorized for an exploratory trip to secure accommodation and then authorized for five round trip tickets per year for personal use. Benefits include five weeks vacation, employer-paid health and welfare benefits through Pacific Blue Cross and Long Term Disability Benefits procured through private coverage, plus "any benefit related employer payments required by Chinese statute will also be covered while you are resident in China."

"Accommodation and living expenses will be covered to a maximum of $5,000 per month," said Wat's letter. "Living expenses include, but are not limited to, disbursements for services such as utilities, Internet, furniture rental, housekeeping services and related expenses.

"You are authorized to arrange transportation in Beijing that is suitable to your needs, but not to exceed $3,000 per month."

Stewart was also granted an allowance capped at $2,400 for language lessons. He is not eligible for severance, but "should your (Order in Council) be rescinded, you will be provided with one way airline travel to return home and a $5,000 lump sum to ship personal effects."

The terms of reference say Stewart's focus is on China, Japan and South Korea for all job sectors, but "with a particular focus on LNG opportunities."

He is to establish monthly meetings with B.C. Trade and Investment office managers, represent and promote B.C. in meetings with other countries, and lead negotiations or development of partnerships and protocol agreements with other governments, agencies and institutions, including acting as the official signatory of B.C. where required.

The NDP criticized the appointment of Quails' Gate Winery co-owner Stewart as patronage. The job was not advertised.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin reports for The Tyee.

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