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HomeBusinessDisgraced clerk Craig James quits, rather than face firing for misconduct

Disgraced clerk Craig James quits, rather than face firing for misconduct

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Bob Mackin

VICTORIA: The clerk of the British Columbia Legislature, who was suspended with pay and benefits and escorted off the precinct last November, quit the night before the Legislature was going to vote on his firing, theBreaker.news has exclusively learned.

In the Legislature on May 16, after Question Period, Government House leader Mike Farnworth said Beverley McLachlin, the retired Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice, found Craig James committed four types of misconduct. McLachlin ruled that Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz committed no misconduct, so the Legislature voted to continue Lenz’s suspension, with pay and benefits. 

At the 11th hour, James negotiated his retirement from the Legislative Assembly, almost two weeks after McLachlin submitted her report to the the Legislature’s three house leaders. James’s agreement includes a non-monetary settlement and a non-disparaging clause. The former is significant, because it means that the province will take no action to recover the money James misspent since the BC Liberals installed him to become clerk in 2011.

B.C. Legislature clerk Craig James from Instagram family photographs at Windsor Castle (left, 2016) and Buckingham Palace (2015)

McLachlin was hired in early March to review the suspensions of James and Lenz, as well as the investigation by Speaker Darryl Plecas that found waste and corruption. Plecas went to police a year ago. The RCMP began investigating last summer and two special prosecutors were appointed early last fall. None of that was known publicly until Nov. 20, when the Legislature voted unanimously to put James and Lenz on indefinite paid leave.

McLachlin’s 55-page “Report on the Special Investigation into Allegations Against the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia” found four instances of James’s misconduct:

  • Expensing of two suits, three purchases of luggage and private insurance premiums to the Legislature;
  • Creation of retirement allowance in 2012 and a resignation benefit in 2018;
  • Removal of alcohol from the Legislature without accounting for it;
  • and, keeping a wood splitter and trailer purchased with Legislature funds at his house for almost a year.

Farnworth would not comment on the costs of the McLachlin report or the costs of James and Lenz’s defence lawyers and public relations firm He was also cagey about the details of the settlement. “There is a non-financial settlement in place and a long with that is a standard employment release that applies to both the legislature and Mr. James, that is what I  am able to tell you, it is a non-financial settlement.”

Speaker Darryl Plecas (left) and chief of staff Alan Mullen (Mackin)

Farnworth did say that the Legislature relied on legal advice from Victoria employment lawyer Marcia McNeil and that the house leaders of the Greens, Sonia Furstenau, and BC Liberals, Mary Polak, agreed with him on McLachlin’s findings and the settlement with James.

James remained defiant in a prepared statement, that said he chose to retire because he “had enough” and that his family “has been deeply hurt and continues to suffer humiliation.”

That statement seemed to contradict what James said last Nov. 26 when he held a news conference in Vancouver with Lenz. They both said they did no wrong, wanted their jobs back and would cooperate with the investigation.

“I have established processes in the Legislative Assembly that are essentially bulletproof,” James boasted. 

Lenz, meanwhile, hosted a news conference with reporters in the backyard of his North Saanich home on May 16. “The fact that my reputation has suffered immeasurable harm is concerning. However, there continues to be an opportunity to move in a positive direction and I look forward to resuming my services to the people of B.C. at the earliest convenience.”

When, or if, that may ever happen is anyone’s guess, because Lenz is, like James, still the subject of an RCMP investigation. 

Plecas was not excused from McLachlin’s criticism. She found he took on the role of a police investigator instead of an administrator. Plecas was unapologetic, because others had failed to bring transparency and accountability to the Legislature, which operates beyond the reach of the province’s freedom of information laws.

“I’m not the first person who has raised concerns, previous auditors generals sought an administrative approach, whistleblowers sought an administrative approach, that didn’t seem to work very well,” Plecas told reporters. ” Some of the other misconduct revealed by Justice McLachlin happened before my time, all I did was bring it to light. Could I have gone another route? That’s a very complicated situation.”

Since being suspended, James collected $180,000 in paycheques, hired the law and public relations firms and held a news conference, with Lenz, to claim he did no wrong. Yet, the night before his fate was to be decided in the Legislature, he quit. Plecas had little to say about that. 

“All I can say is that it is every single employee’s right to retire, that’s a matter which we would have no control over, so it is what it is.”

Green house leader Sonia Furstenau (left), NDP’s Mike Farnworth and BC Liberals’ Mary Polak (Mackin)

In January, Plecas released a report through the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which he chairs, that described a history of millions of dollars of flagrant spending under James and Lenz. Plecas found waste and corruption, including unnecessary overseas trips, purchases of watches and gifts, failure to report and pay duties to Canada customs, the purchase of a wood splitter kept at James’s house and the $257,000 retirement allowance James decided to give himself in 2012. 

James came to Victoria from Saskatchewan in 1987 as a committee clerk. He succeeded 50-year veteran clerk George MacMinn in a June 2011 vote by the BC Liberals, after returning to the Legislature from a temporary role as the head of Elections BC. The NDP opposed the appointment, because it was made by the governing party rather than through the LAMC.

Plecas is a criminology professor who was elected as a BC Liberal in Abbotsford South in 2013 and 2017. His threat to quit the party over Christy Clark’s leadership after the NDP came to power in July 2017 at a Penticton caucus retreat forced Clark’s departure. Later that summer, Plecas left the BC Liberals and became the speaker, the first time that an independent MLA had occupied the position in B.C.

Plecas’s move gave the Green-supported NDP minority government a two-seat edge over the BC Liberals. It also led to the end of James’s controversial tenure and his retirement-in-disgrace. 

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