As the B.C. Legislature corruption scandal widens, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver called on ex-speaker Linda Reid to resign her assistant deputy speaker post on Jan. 23. But the 28-year Richmond BC Liberal MLA told Global News that she is going nowhere.
“I would never knowingly, willingly claim for something I wasn’t entitled to,” Reid said, pledging to cooperate with an audit ordered Jan. 21 by the Legislative Assembly Management Committee. “I have never done that in my career.”
In 2013, Reid knowingly and willingly claimed for her husband’s business class airfare, meals and hotel when she attended a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in South Africa. In March 2014, when Reid was exposed, she said she reimbursed the public treasury for $5,528.16 for the airfare and would eventually repay the rest of her husband’s costs.
Beginning in 2014, this reporter persistently sought proof from Reid. She has never acknowledged phone or email messages, much less shown any proof of repayment. Reid did not respond to theBreaker.news queries on Jan. 23.
The year 2014 was also when $79,000 of renovations to Reid’s riding office in Garden City Mall caught the eye of RCMP officials. A brown bench was bolted to concrete by the curb and surveillance cameras installed, without any recommendation from police. Reid also renovated the kitchen and bathroom, but no charges were laid. Landlord Farrell Estates donated $24,240 to the BC Liberals between 2005 and 2017.
Reid’s latest controversy stems from the report by Speaker Darryl Plecas into alleged corruption at the Legislature. Plecas’s Jan. 21 report recounted how a BC Liberal aide was fired for questioning Reid’s expense reports.
Connor Gibson was applauded by BC Liberal MLAs when he was introduced in the Legislature on May 29 of last year. Former Education Minister Mike Bernier joked that members of the BC Liberal caucus “had a bit of an arm wrestle” about who would introduce Gibson, his legislative assistant. Bernier then gave Gibson a glowing review that is recorded in the Hansard transcript for perpetuity.
“I think that [Connor is] probably one of the strongest, hardest-working LAs, because he puts up with quite a motley crew of MLAs,” Bernier said.
Just two days later, on May 31, Gibson was fired.
In the Plecas report, where he was identified by the initials “AB,” it says Gibson was told it was for “budget concerns.”
“[He] believed he was fired for refusing to do something that he thought was unethical, and he was upset about that,” Plecas wrote.
Gibson had come forward to Plecas’s aide Alan Mullen, and agreed to an interview with Mullen, Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Randy Ennis and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz two weeks after he was fired. “[His] concerns were that mileage claims were being made for trips the MLA had taken by taxi, and full day per diems were claimed when meals had been provided by hosts that the MLA was meeting with. Mr. Lenz remarked that he thought a forensic audit was needed,” Plecas wrote.
Later that afternoon, following the meeting, Lenz called Mullen and told him that the complaint was unsubstantiated. Meanwhile, Plecas and James were on a goodwill visit to China and having a conversation over breakfast.
“[James] said words to the effect of, ‘I spoke with Kate [Ryan-Lloyd, the deputy clerk] and told her to rein Gary in and put a stop to this, otherwise we will all wear it’,” the report said.
Plecas spoke with Ryan-Lloyd on June 20 and she said James did not contact her about Gibson’s case. On June 20, Ryan-Lloyd told Plecas that James went to Vancouver to meet with lawyer Geoff Plant, about how to “rein in Gary and ensure he wouldn’t be conducting investigations in the future”.
Plant is a former BC Liberal attorney general and partner at the Gall Legge Grant Zwack law firm that billed the Legislature $105,478 for the year-ended March 31, 2018.
“Any officer who takes steps to summarily quash an investigation at a preliminary stage, with an express justification of protecting expense recording patterns and insulating them from review, is a serious matter that warrants a proper enquiry,” Plecas wrote.
“I was uncomfortable with Mr. James’ suggestion that, if the matter came to light, it would have broader negative ramifications, together with his claim to have suppressed an internal investigation into a genuine issue raised in good faith by a concerned employee.”
Gibson’s case was contained in a section of Plecas’s report about shoddy workplace management at the Legislature. Some 16 ex-employees have come forward to Plecas and Mullen. Many of the fired workers had raised concerns about expense irregularities and financial mismanagement.
“It appears that this practice of sudden without-cause terminations has fostered a culture of insecurity among staff in at least some of the departments at the Legislative Assembly that if employees spoke up about concerns or fell out of favour they could lose their jobs without warning,” Plecas wrote. “As a result, staff have stayed quiet about what they have observed.”
The all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee voted unanimously to review workplace policies and procedures. Plecas also recommended whistleblower protection. A section of the report that dealt with termination of employees included a quote from an unnamed, 2013-fired employee.
“I still feel disheartened over losing my job there because there’s no reason I should have been let go… when I worked there, I felt I was walking in the footsteps of history, that I was actually part of history, that I was part of something in British Columbia, and something that is really, really important.”
Plecas wrote that a public employer should set a standard for a respectful workplace. The Legislative Assembly, however, lacks protection for workers, because it is not unionized and the Employment Standards Act and Human Rights Code do not apply.
“Unnecessary terminations in which terminated employees receive pay in lieu of notice is also a costly practice for an employer: severance payments, recruiting expenses, training costs, lost productivity and loss of institutional knowledge are costs needlessly incurred,” said Plecas’s report.
The annual Legislative Assembly financial report shows the steadily rising costs of severance settlements, from $81,739 in the 2012-13 fiscal year to $268,802 in 2015-16 and $540,421 in 2017-18.
The spotlight falls on Reid just days before she hosts her riding association’s annual $350-a-plate Robbie Burns Dinner fundraiser on Jan. 25 at the Mayfair Lakes Golf and Country Club. There is no mention of the scotch tasting that was advertised during the years when Reid was speaker.
In his report, Plecas recalled discovering three liquor cabinets in the speaker’s office. “It had been my previous experience that the government does not pay for alcohol for staff or members’ personal consumption, so this was surprising to me.”
An RCMP investigation of the Nov. 20-suspended James and Lenz is ongoing. They claim their innocence. LAMC has asked for an explanation from both of them and could move to fire them outright.
On Jan. 23, Plecas told reporters in Abbotsford that he wants to see justice for the staffers who were fired under James and Lenz.
“The impact that all of this has happened on taxpayers,” Plecas said. “I want us to get to a place where we get our money back.”
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