Province Newspaper Nov 7/03: "B.C. ombudsman needs to be appointed to bring SPCA to heel"
Friday, November 07, 2003 The scandal-plagued B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals continues to lurch from crisis to crisis, like an inebriated poodle with poor public- relations skills. On Wednesday, just in time for Christmas, its new acting CEO Craig Daniell announced that the $20-million-a-year charity had no option but to lay off a total of 33 staff, including 20 in the Lower Mainland.
"It is imperative that we take drastic steps in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that we are living within the income available to us for the remainder of 2003 and beyond," Daniell said.
Given man's inhumanity to animals, however, there appears to be no shortage of useful work for the SPCA to do in this province.
The century-old society already looks after more than 60,000 homeless and abused animals a year. And this year, thanks to fires, floods and rising public expectations about animal treatment, it expects to care for a record number of dogs, cats, cattle, horses, exotic birds and other pets. So far in 2003, SPCA staff have seized more than 1,000 animals, and are providing more services than ever before.
The big problem for the SPCA in delivering those services is its poor public image, given that it relies on public donations. In recent years, its main claim to fame has been the savagery of its infighting and the generous way it's rewarded departing CEOs -- while recording deficits of $2.6 million in 2001, $4.5 million in '02 and an expected $3 million this year.
In his statement on the layoffs, Daniell singled out the wages the SPCA pays its union workers for special blame. He later told me the lowest-paid union worker in Prince George earns more (about $13.50 hourly) than the highest-paid non-union one in nearby Kitimat (about $13 an hour).
I'm more inclined, however, to believe the SPCA's budget woes have been brought about by bull-headed management than union greed.
Remember, this is the same charity that caused howls of outrage in 2001 when it was revealed that the executive director of its Vancouver regional branch, Bob Hooper, was earning more than $203,000 a year, with benefits.
And, even taking into account the financial doo-doo in which the SPCA now finds itself, the timing of these layoffs demonstrates a, er, dog-eat-dog attitude. As Canadian Union of Public Employees spokesman Peter Francis told me: "It certainly is annoying to us that we are paying the price for a legacy of mismanagement at the higher levels."
The SPCA is governed by a special provincial statute, and it is time it was brought to heel.
Indeed, I agree with the B.C. Animal Welfare Coalition that Victoria should appoint a special provincial animal ombudsman to ensure quality care for our four-legged friends. "