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B.C. councillors reimbursed for $125-a-head banquet at Victoria’s Empress hotel

Victoria-hosted convention tops $550 for some attendees, boasts getting politicians ‘up and dancing’
Several Victoria councillors will be reimbursed for a more than $125-per-head banquet that will be held at the Fairmont Empress’ Crystal Ballroom as part of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention when it takes place in Victoria from April 12 to 14. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

As residents continue to face stubbornly high food prices, some Victoria councillors are getting reimbursed for a more than $125 dinner at an upcoming conference in the city they govern.

It’s among the items making up the more-than $400 price tags for council members to attend the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) convention that will be held in Victoria from April 12 to 14.

The reimbursement requests – which could end up costing over $4,000 in total if all councillors attend – have also been submitted as the capital city politicians voted to give themselves a 25-per-cent raise this term.

Council passed a motion in February approving all of its members be reimbursed for AVICC’s $400 “early bird” registration fee, should they choose to attend the conference taking place in their city.

But on top of that, taking part in other aspects of the convention involves additional costs and councillors in recent weeks have been coming forward individually with motions requesting they also be made whole for those funds. Victoria’s council remuneration bylaw states the mayor and councillors must be paid for their travel expenses and while representing the city at a meeting or convention.

One councillor’s only additional reimbursement request is the Saturday night $125-per-head delegate banquet and their overall conference costs, with taxes, come in at $551. That rises for several councillors taking part in workshops and field trips – like one to Metchosin farms – that come with additional fees.

Most of the AVICC business sessions will be hosted at the Victoria Conference Centre – a venue owned by the city.

But the banquet will have some higher-brow flare as it will be held in the Palm Court and Crystal Ballroom of the Fairmont Empress hotel. It’s there where politicians will get to cap their evening with a two-hour performance by a Victoria-based band.

The AVICC brochure states the banquet’s entertainment “will get us up and dancing after the three-course meal.”

“We look forward to seeing our delegates’ best dance moves!” the brochure reads.

Black Press Media on Monday morning asked AVICC why a convention engaging elected officials on the housing crisis, environmental issues and other topics needs a banquet at a venue like the Empress. A convention official reached by phone said the request for comment has been forwarded to the event’s executives.

A “platinum” sponsor of the banquet is the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), the Crown corporation under the Ministry of Finance’s purview that’s responsible for managing gambling in the province. Black Press Media has not yet received a response after asking the ministry and BCLC how much went into sponsoring the banquet and whether those funds could’ve been better used to support B.C. residents.

The councillors who have asked to be reimbursed for the banquet include Dave Thompson, Jeremy Caradonna, Marg Gardiner and Stephen Hammond. The four had their requests approved at the March 14 council meeting.

Requests for comment were sent to the councillors’ emails Monday morning. Hammond on Wednesday said banquets like the one a AVICC allow for informal interactions between delegates.

“The cost is certainly high, yet I don’t see us going to Denny’s,” he said in an email, noting he won’t be attending the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention banquet in Calgary this June.

Thompson and Caradonna voted in favour of a motion in March that would raise councillor pay by 25 per cent this term. Councillor pay rates are adjusted to match annual inflation increases but the base pay rate hasn’t been updated in a decade and a half.

A consultant’s governance review called on the city to reassess those pay rates each term, which led to a separate consultant report last month that found Victoria councillors are paid about $4,000 less than their counterparts in 11 B.C. cities that were studied, based on 2023 median pay levels.

The bylaw changes permitting the pay raise will be up for council approval at the Thursday (April 4) meeting. Both Gardiner and Hammond joined Mayor Marianne Alto in voting against the original motion.

“It is never appropriate for any agency, ever, under any circumstances, to vote itself a raise,” the mayor said in March, adding current councillors knew what they were getting into when they ran in the last election.

READ: Victoria councillors vote to increase their pay this term

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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