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HomeBusinessBellringer’s legislature misspending audit is more tinkle than gong

Bellringer’s legislature misspending audit is more tinkle than gong


Bob Mackin

The British Columbia Auditor General’s first report on the Legislative Assembly spending scandal was not the forensic audit that Speaker Darryl Plecas asked for.

Carol Bellringer also did not consider a key allegation of fraud contained in Plecas’s bombshell January report on corruption in the offices of the clerk and sergeant-at-arms.

Auditor General Carol Bellringer

Instead, her office focused on policies and procedures when it examined 4,700 transactions worth $2.2 million. Bellringer concluded there were no “unusually or potentially fraudulent transactions that needed to be referred to police.”

“When the word forensic audit is used in conversation, I’m not always sure what people are meaning by it, because it is a specific term used when you’re putting those sorts of files together,” Bellringer told reporters in a conference call. “You have to have something to look into before you do so.”

But, as pointed out, there really was something to look into.

In his report, Plecas wrote about a December 2017 conversation that he had with Clerk Craig James. James suddenly retired in May after former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlin found he had used taxpayers’ money to buy personal items.

“When we were preparing to fly home [from the United Kingdom], I commented that I had bought quite a bit of scotch and that it was likely to cost me a fair sum in duties,” Plecas wrote. “Mr. James replied along the lines of, ‘do as I do — don’t declare anything’. I didn’t take that advice, and I was struck by the brazenness of that comment.”

In their February reply, both James and Sgt.-at-Arms Gary Lenz were silent on the issue of their lack of declaration of imported goods and payment of related duties and taxes. In March, Canada Border Services Agency would neither confirm nor deny it is investigating the duo.

Clerk Craig James (right) and Speaker Darryl Plecas (left) meeting in London with Akbar Khan of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 2017 (BC Leg/Twitter)

Asked about the omission from her performance audit, Bellringer replied: “Is that in the original speaker’s report?”

“Anything that was included in the Speaker’s report we left into the context of whatever they were choosing to do with the investigation by Beverley McLachlin and her team, so that was the first reason we didn’t,” Bellringer said. “We have not gone back to the Speaker’s report to see if there are additional items when we were doing this work. It doesn’t mean we would not consider doing it, but there is also a police investigation underway, the RCMP looking at certain matters as well as the Police Act [investigation of Lenz]. I’m not privy to, I know some things about that, but I do not know what they’re looking at or until those reports come out I don’t know if the matters you’re referring to have been covered or not.”

Bellringer admitted that Ken Ryan-Lloyd, husband of acting clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd, still works in the Office of the Auditor General, where he is manager of compliance, controls and research. Bellringer said she took efforts to avoid a conflict of interest.

“It is so broad and so open-ended the we needed to start somewhere and figure out what we needed to understand as to what was going on at the assembly. This is the first in a series of reports, we didn’t decide to do this and stop.”

The all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee, Bellringer said, dropped the ball in overseeing the speaker, clerk and sergeant-at-arms. Policies that were in place were not always followed, documentation was unclear, and spending often happened without appropriate approval or a clear business purpose. She said her next reports on the Legislature will focus on purchasing cards, fixed assets, compensation and benefits and governance. 

Bellringer successfully lobbied LAMC for the assignment, after the committee had originally planned to seek an out-of-province forensic audit.

In a prepared statement, Plecas expressed surprise that Bellringer did not conduct a forensic audit. While satisfied that she found “failure of leadership and trust by senior non-elected leadership of the Legislative Assembly,” Plecas was unhappy that she did not examine spending all the way back to 2011, the year when the BC Liberals appointed James. Nonetheless, he said, the Legislative Assembly accepted all nine recommendations.

Suspended Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz (BC Leg)

On my instructions, new policies on employee travel, uniforms and gifts and honoraria have been explicitly extended to my office,” Plecas wrote. “The full implementation of all audit report recommendations will be completed in the months ahead.

“More work is needed to address the remaining issues in my January 21 report, but we are on the right track as we work toward a new governance framework, more effective oversight of Assembly administration and further reforms to administrative policies.

Lenz remains suspended-with-pay pending the results of a Police Act investigation by former Vancouver Police deputy chief Doug LePard.

On Nov. 20, 2018, James and Lenz were suddenly and unanimously suspended with pay by lawmakers and escorted out of the building. The public quickly learned that the RCMP and two special prosecutors were investigating evidence gathered by Plecas. James and Lenz claimed they did no wrong.

A source familiar with the RCMP investigation, but not authorized to comment publicly, exclusively told that reports have been forwarded to special prosecutor David Butcher for potential charge approval regarding James’s purchase of a wood splitter that he took home and various liquor transactions.

Meanwhile, a former constituency office aide to Chilliwack BC Liberal MLA John Martin was charged Sept. 19 with two counts of fraud over $5,000 and two counts of breach of public trust.

Desmond Michael Devnich is scheduled to appear Oct. 8 in Chilliwack Provincial Court, accused of offences between June 25, 2013 and Feb. 27, 2017. Special prosecutor Robin McFee has been on the case for two-and-a-half years.

In March 2017, Martin said that an employee had admitted to theft of tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money and was fired. 

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