He was escorted out of Parliament in 2018 as part of a police investigation into allegations related to the old-age pension, travel expense reports and the purchase of a log splitter and trailer with public funds.
Martland said James’ attorney advised him that his client and three other Legislature executives could receive the annuity payment, and that James then recommended that Barisoff also seek advice from the same attorney.
“Were you concerned about a conflict of interest?” asked Martland Barisoff.
“Not that I can remember,” Barisoff replied.
Barisoff said his biggest concern was that one of the four people for whom James received legal advice regarding retirement benefits died of cancer. He doesn’t recall seeking or seeking legal advice from anyone else, but he may have consulted the Legislative Assembly’s Administrative Committee, he added.
But Martland wondered how the committee could give him advice since it wasn’t in session at the time.
“How would that have happened?” asked Martland.
Barisoff said he spoke individually to members of the committee, adding that he had no recollection of speaking to anyone in particular and that he had nothing in writing.
“Have you ever contacted the conflicts of interest officer about this?” Martland asked.
“I don’t remember ever doing that,” said Barisoff, who was a spokesman from 2005 to 2013.
Barisoff said he also doesn’t recall speaking to the Comptroller, whose responsibilities include the government’s financial management systems.
“Have you trusted and relied on the integrity of the Legislature staff in handling this issue?” Martland asked.
“Yes, definitely,” Barisoff said.
“Why?” asked Martland.
“Because if you didn’t have the trust of the people you work with, it would be quite difficult to run the operation,” Barisoff replied.
Barisoff told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes that he had no relationship with James outside of the legislature and never went to the home of the former employee, whom he described as the CEO of construction operations and grounds.
But he said James visited his southern Okanagan home about five times and at least twice after his retirement in June 2013, including when James delivered some items from Barisoff’s office.
Kate Ryan-Lloyd, the current secretary of the Legislature, previously told the trial that she also received a $118,000 retirement grant but felt “uncomfortable” about the money and returned it in 2013.
Ryan-Lloyd has testified that she first learned about the retirement pension in late 2011, when two employees at the Secretariat’s office announced they were leaving their jobs and demanded a payment.
The court has heard that the allowance was created in 1984 for civil servants who did not qualify for public pension plans or executive benefit packages, but that the pay structure for those civil servants changed in 1987.
Ryan-Lloyd said James was initially “skeptical” about the two employees’ claims on the benefit and told her he had hired a lawyer to consult on the matter.
On February 10, 2012, she said, James informed her that, based on legal advice, Barisoff had determined that the old-age pension was still in effect and that both she and James qualified.
Barisoff advised ending the program and paying out any outstanding claims to eliminate ongoing liability to the Legislature, Ryan-Lloyd told the court.
When questioned by defense attorney Gavin Cameron on Monday, Barisoff said he received legal advice that all four people are entitled to a payout and that the legal course of action is to halt the payments program.
Barisoff testified that he was “extremely concerned about the unfunded liability that the BC Legislature or taxpayers may have to become involved in.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 14, 2022.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press