Woe Christmas tree, woe Christmas tree. How muddy were thy circumstances.
Almost exactly five years before he was suspended, British Columbia Legislature clerk Craig James found himself at the centre of a seasonal scandal.
Proud B.C. tree farmer Mike Fleming rolled-up to the Rockpile (as the 121-year-old Parliament Buildings are nicknamed) on Nov. 29, 2013 to deliver his annual gift to the people of the province: a majestic, 27-foot Douglas fir from his Saanichton Christmas Tree Farm.
A CBC report at the time quoted Fleming as “speechless” after he entered the building to find a tree had already been erected in the rotunda. Fleming told the Times-Colonist he was “completely taken aback.”
“After 40 years of putting a tree in the Legislature, donating it and a tremendous amount of work, I’m very disappointed,” Fleming said. “Nobody had informed me from the Speaker’s office.”
The company that supplied the 2013 tree was Bartlett Tree Experts, a multinational headquartered in Stamford, Conn., with 100 locations across the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Ontario and B.C.
Fleming’s tree was eventually erected behind the Legislature library. James said it was Speaker Linda Reid’s idea to put a tree on the exterior of the complex, to supplement the one in the rotunda. James admitted that nobody thought of telling Fleming before he arrived for his annual special delivery.
“I guess there was some miscommunication or non-communication and to that effect I certainly have apologized,” James told CBC.
The Legislature’s list of suppler payments shows $36,886 was paid to Bartlett for the year ended March 31, 2014. Bartlett billed another $33,101 the following fiscal year. The list of suppliers does not provide spending details and the Legislature is not covered by the freedom of information law.
Fleming died of a heart attack on Oct. 27, just shy of his 66th birthday. He was busy harvesting Christmas trees in the Kootenays. He kept delivering trees every Christmas. His staff kept the tradition going. The Legislature tweeted a picture of the 2018 tree’s rotunda installation on Dec. 3.
James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were suspended indefinitely with pay on Nov. 20 by the Legislature because of an RCMP investigation with two special prosecutors.
Sources tell theBreaker that Mounties are probing a corruption allegation. James and Lenz hired the Fasken law firm and Peak Communicators crisis communications company to deny wrongdoing and ask for reinstatement. That is unlikely to come, as NDP and Green Legislative Assembly Management Committee members vowed not to interfere with the police investigation.
Speaker Darryl Plecas emphatically told the Dec. 6 LAMC meeting that he detected serious problems shortly after he was appointed in September 2017. He vowed to quit if the results of a forensic audit do not outrage taxpayers.
“I felt a great duty to safeguard the integrity of this institution and be very mindful about why we’re all here,” Plecas told the meeting. “That’s to make sure that public dollars are spent appropriately.”
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