In part one of his first interview since the auditor general’s Sept. 19 report on the B.C. Legislature scandal, Speaker Darryl Plecas said he was “astounded” that Carol Bellringer did not conduct a forensic review or find any evidence of fraud.
“I was a bit surprised that she explicitly stated that the clerk and sergeant-at-arms were cleared of wrongdoing in the McLachlin investigation, they’d already been cleared. I thought, whoa, for an auditor general to say that is a bit surprising. The auditor general is taking a cue from someone who is not an auditor,” Plecas told theBreaker.news on Sept. 20 [watch the video below]. “ I’m not worried where it is going to land, at the end of the day. I come back to knowing absolutely there was fraud and it’s gone unnoticed, I don’t blame [retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley] McLachlin for that. It absolutely boggles me that the auditor general wouldn’t have picked that up. I guess we’ll have to wait now until the police do their thing.”
The interview was exactly 10 months after the day when Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were immediately suspended indefinitely with pay and ejected from the Legislature because of an RCMP investigation, with two special prosecutors, into corruption. The two men claimed they did no wrong and wanted their jobs back, but James retired in disgrace in May instead of facing certain firing after McLachlin found he committed misconduct in purchasing goods for personal use with taxpayer funds. Lenz remains on the public payroll, but is facing an investigation under the Police Act by former Transit Police chief and Vancouver Police deputy chief Doug LePard.
Bellringer found policies either did not exist or were not followed, and there was no violation reporting mechanism to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, the all-party oversight committee. LAMC had originally endorsed Plecas’s proposal to find an auditor general from another province, but the committee did an about-face to let Bellringer handle the task.
Plecas said he was surprised by what ended up being Bellringer’s report, because he was under the impression right from the beginning that it would be a forensic audit. Plecas was also disappointed that Bellringer’s report looked only at 2016 to 2018, rather than going back to 2012 to pick-up where previous Auditor General John Doyle left-off; Doyle blasted the Legislative Assembly for secrecy and financial incompetence.
“I had meetings with the auditor and her staff where I called attention to matters which I thought were criminal, had specific discussions about that,” he said. “I had lots of reason, some of which is indicated in my first report, I had lots of reason to think there was untoward activity, unusual. I think the auditor general was quoted as saying she found nothing unusual and nothing which would indicate any kind of criminal wrongdoing and any kind of fraud. I just have to say that boggles me. I’ve seen what I describe as full-blown fraud, with my own two eyes, discussed it with other people and ultimately turned it over to police. I’m just astounded there was no wrongdoing found there.”
As theBreaker.news reported exclusively, Bellringer did not consider the allegation in Plecas’s January report that James did not declare the purchase of goods or pay duty and taxes on them when he traveled. The lack of receipts from Canada Border Services Agency tends to confirm that and James and Lenz were both silent on that allegation when they submitted rebuttals to Plecas’s report in February. James and Lenz’s lawyers also did not respond to queries on the issue from theBreaker.news.
Plecas did, however, agree with Bellringer’s finding about lack of policies and procedures. He wondered why such a gap that existed over seven years under James was rapidly filled within months by his interim replacement, acting clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd.
“I would say that finding is worse than any other finding we could’ve come up with. Anybody who understands corruption and corruption in organizations would say that is nothing short of a candy store for corruption,” Plecas said.
“If you want to facilitate, enable, allow people to do things, engage in untoward behaviour, what better way to do it than have no policies at all, so that one can say, at the end of the day, there’s certainly no criminal behaviour here because there’s been no violation of policy.
“Remarkably the minute the leadership changes, the minute we have a new clerk literally with in a matter of a few months, we have a whole series of policies and I have to commend the acting clerk [Ryan-Lloyd] on the spectacular job she’s done in putting that all together so quickly. How is it possible to do that so fast literally in a couple of months when you could go seven years and not have one, with all the oversight. Where were the people who should’ve been saying excuse me, you don’t have any policies, excuse me, you don’t have any safeguards?”
Plecas said his chief of staff, Alan Mullen, is working on a report after touring various provincial and state legislatures during the summer. The trip, budgeted for $10,000, went $3,000 over and that caused a media furore. Plecas said Mullen’s trip would have cost more by air, instead of rental car, or if it had been contracted to one of the Big Four accounting firms. Its value for money will be self-evident when it is released, he said.
Plecas wonders why there was not equal, if not greater, outrage among members of the press gallery over policing overtime waste at the Legislature.
“The concern was not about this overtime situation, which, by the way, will be told through Mr. Mullen’s report, is remarkably different than most places. How different is it? We spent $1.7 million [on overtime in the last five years]. Most other legislatures didn’t spend a dime.”
Meanwhile, Plecas said he will be asking for an audit of the Legislature’s IT system, which has hindered RCMP detectives gathering evidence against James and Lenz.
“One of the things I was wildly criticized for was wanting images of hard drives, well I did that because we had numerous instances where we couldn’t access information. We had information stolen from the legislature, I don’t get into the details of that, it’s been turned over to the police. Information stolen: We were not able to fully fill production order requests from the police. This is disturbing,” Plecas sad.
“On the last day of the [spring session of the] house [May 30], almost every member of the opposition stood up, one after another and said I was wrong. At some point we have to ask, what is the goal here? My goal is to say I want to make sure that the legislature, the administrative side of the legislature, runs as efficiently and effectively as possible. That’s one task. The other task is asking well, how on earth did it ever get to a place where it’s not? If you put it all together collectively and say gee, you have problems with your IT system, you have no policies, I think a person ought to be saying what is going on here?”
WATCH and SHARE Part 1 of theBreaker.news exclusive interview with Darryl Plecas below.
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