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HomeBusinessAudio: Speaker vows to resign if taxpayers not outraged by clerk and sgt-at-arms spending

Audio: Speaker vows to resign if taxpayers not outraged by clerk and sgt-at-arms spending

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Bob Mackin

At the first Legislative Assembly Management Committee since the suspensions of the top two officials, the speaker, who chairs the committee, proposed full forensic audits and vowed to quit if the public is not outraged by the findings.

Very early in his tenure as speaker, Darryl Plecas told the committee on Dec. 6, “very serious concerns were brought to me about certain activities that were taking place within the Legislative Assembly. When I learned of this information, I felt a great duty to safeguard the integrity of this institution and be very mindful about why we’re all here. That’s to make sure that public dollars are spent appropriately.”

Speaker Darryl Plecas (bottom) vows to quit if the public is not outraged by a forensic audit of Craig James (left) and Gary Lenz.

Clerk Craig James and Sergreant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were suspended by the Legislature on Nov. 20 with pay, until further notice. The RCMP had been investigating since the summer and two special prosecutors had been appointed Oct. 1.

No charges have been laid and the details of the allegations have not been made public. But sources tell theBreaker there was an allegation of corruption.

James and Lenz hired lawyers from the Fasken firm and public relations advisors from the Peak Communicators crisis communications company. James and Lenz claim they did no wrong and have asked for reinstatement.

Plecas said he is ultimately responsible for security at the Legislature and has a duty to taxpayers to pursue, with due diligence, any spending or financial impropriety. He hinted at other issues.

“[Taxpayers] would also want me to pay attention to the workplace environment and to make sure that people are treated fairly, etc,” Plecas told the committee. “And I can tell every single taxpayer out there: ‘Take it to the bank. I will be doing that every time. I will be doing due diligence.’ Call it investigation. Call it what you will. I will be doing that for every taxpayer.”

In response to BC Liberal house leader Mary Polak, Plecas was adamant that the investigation was justified and is so confident that he did the right thing, that he publicly put his job and reputation on the line. 

The twice-elected Abbotsford South MLA, who is a criminology professor, quit the BC Liberal caucus to become speaker in September 2017. At the end of July 2017, he stood-up to ex-Premier Christy Clark at the first caucus retreat after the party lost power to the NDP, leading to Clark’s resignation.

James and Lenz’s lawyers, Mark Andrews and Gavin Cameron, have not yet responded for comment. 

Listen to highlights of the Dec. 6 Legislative Assembly Management Committee meeting and read a transcript below.

 

BC Liberal house leader Mary Polak: I’d like to, then, ask some questions which I do not for a minute think impact on a criminal investigation. Those are related to the hiring of [former B.C. Supreme Court judge and BC Liberal Attorney General Wally] Oppal. I wanted to understand in what capacity Mr. Oppal has been hired. Where is Mr. Oppal’s salary coming from? Is it Vote 1? If it is Vote 1, under what authority was he hired? And maybe I might have a few questions after that, but we’ll start there.

Mr. Speaker: Well, Mr. Oppal is hired by the Speaker’s office, and I’m not prepared to disclose the details of that. He is legal counsel.

M. Polak: So he is legal counsel to your office or to you personally?

Mr. Speaker: To the office.

M. Polak: If he is legal counsel to your office, then there’s no reason the public can’t know about his hiring and what he’s being paid to do that.

Mr. Speaker: I’m not sure how to respond to that. I’m not sure that Mr. Oppal wants it on the record, of what his pay is.

M. Polak: Well, whether Mr. Oppal wants it or not is not really the question.

Mr. Speaker: Let me say this, because I know where we’re going here. You have one concern or another about my office. We all know that. We all know what’s really going on here.

Let me say this. I’m proposing that we have another LAMC meeting, and at that LAMC meeting I will give you a long laundry list of my concerns. I won’t be talking about the criminal investigation. I will talk about everything but the criminal investigation.

At that meeting, I will be proposing that we have a full audit, a full forensic audit, on the Speaker’s office — that is, my office — one on the Clerk’s office and one on the Sergeant-at-Arms office. You will get every detail of how much I spent. You want full disclosure. The public deserves full disclosure. Boy, are they going to get it.

I would say this — one more point I want to make to emphasize how important this is. I am completely confident — completely confident — that those audits will show that we have a lot of work to do here. If the outcome of those audits did not outrage the public, did not outrage taxpayers, did not make them throw up, I will resign as Speaker, and Mr. Mullen will resign as well.

This has gone on far enough. I’ve been reduced to a cartoon character. The press has focused on nothing but this issue since this first happened, solely on this issue. This is completely unfair. It certainly isn’t fair to a legislative employee, like Mr. Mullen. You all know that you are completely off base. Mr. Mullen was hired with a job description.

You also know, for the record, if I was really playing it right, I would add another $180,000 to my budget because I’m an independent, and I didn’t want to burden the taxpayers with that. So I’m asking Mr. Mullen to do two things.

Yes, I’m proposing we have another meeting, and I don’t want that in camera. I want all British Columbians to know. I want them to know what my concerns are, and I want them to know what Mr. Mullen was concerned about. I want that on the public record. I want everyone to know.

Again, I’ll emphasize: if there is one single thing about those audits — anything — that says there’s anything other than lots of things wrong, I promise you, I will resign as Speaker. That ought to be enough for you to say that I think we’re onto something here, and it needs to be fixed. And it needs to be fixed through the Speaker’s office because it hasn’t been fixed for years.

I don’t know what else to say.

M. Polak: Well, you could say this: if it’s possible for us to have a public LAMC meeting where you describe your concerns, and you either describe Mr. Mullen’s concerns or he describes them himself — I’m not sure what you intended…. If that’s possible without impacting the police investigation, why is it not possible to answer that question now?

Mr. Speaker: Because we thought, as a reasonable person would think: “Don’t be talking about anything so long as there’s a criminal investigation.” And if this hadn’t degenerated into a circus, which it is…. We’ve lost focus on what the issue is here.

All I’m doing is saying, as an elected official: “Oh, I think there’s something wrong here.” That’s all I did, and I’m being criticized for that. My office is being criticized. Previous Speakers have been criticized for not being attentive enough to the public purse. You will not be saying that about me at the end of my tenure.

I’d also say that the faster this audit can happen, the better. I’m sure it’s the wish of you and your colleagues that I get out of here as quickly as possible, so I’m willing to say: “Let’s make this fast. Let’s get this audit triple time. If this can be done next week, let’s do it.” Now, we know that it can’t be. I’m saying, let’s do this fast. Let’s not get back in February without any of this on the table.

This is also hurtful to this institution. We can’t be expected to run normal operations with these non-stop accusations of wrongdoing on behalf of the Speaker’s office, non-stop attacking of a legislative employee who’s simply doing his job.

I would ask you and everyone else: is there any one, single thing that Mr. Mullen has done wrong? I know what’s going to happen at the end of this. People are going to be cheering for Mr. Mullen, and they’re going to say: “Whatever you do here at the Legislature, don’t get rid of Mr. Mullen.”

M. Polak: Mr. Speaker, that may very well be the case. The challenge, of course, is that we don’t know. When we have asked about what it is that Mr. Mullen has undertaken, we are told no answers. We’re not given any answers. Far from making accusations, I am asking questions. All I have done here is ask questions.

But again, if it’s possible for you to schedule another LAMC meeting and in public provide, as you call it, your laundry list of concerns that you had and that Mr. Mullen had, then why is it not possible to discuss it at this meeting?

Mr. Speaker: Because, as a legal adviser would say, when I get into the details of that, I’d better be extraordinarily careful about how I say things. It’s part of why I was reading here.

This is an absolutely serious situation, and the last thing I’m ever going to be accused of is somehow interfering with a police investigation. I do not want any overlap with what’s going on with the police. I am not going to do that whatsoever.

I’m saying, and I propose, that this happen in mid-January. We have another meeting, and at that meeting, I will outline what my concerns are. And I am very confident that I won’t have to say it. All of you will be saying: “Let’s get that full forensic audit going.” What else can I say?

M. Polak: Just to be on the record, I have no problem…. In fact, I think it’s almost necessary for us to go back and take a look at the financials and how the offices have been operating — no problem with that at all.

But again, I haven’t heard an answer. Why is it that the questions I’ve been asking can’t be discussed, if you’re saying that actually they can — that these matters can be discussed in public? You’ve just said that’s possible, and yet I’ve been told I can’t ask my questions.

Mr. Speaker: Well, I’m not reading it that way, but let’s move on to Sonia.

[Green house leader Sonia] Furstenau: I think that given that you have committed to a follow-up meeting in which all of these questions can be canvassed, may I suggest that we actually have an important agenda ahead of us that we should be moving to?

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