Speaker Darryl Plecas made good on his promise to detail a level of financial mismanagement in the B.C. legislative assembly that would outrage British Columbians.
His 76-page report contains allegations of “flagrant overspending,” including taxpayer-funded overseas trips and luxury purchases, by two senior legislature officers: clerk of the house Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.
The two have called the allegations “false and untrue,” but in the midst of a police investigation, politicians are calling for more oversight of the public purse and a comprehensive forensic audit to determine how long such behaviour has been going on.
Here are the key players involved.
Craig James has maintained his innocence as he remains suspended with pay from his $347,090-a-year job, which gives him responsibility over the legislature’s $78-million budget. He’s also in charge of staff and MLA expenses, and ensures policies and procedures are followed.
Many of the allegations of overspending in the Speaker’s report focus on James. He’s accused of directing legislative staff to load his truck with $10,000 worth of alcohol, reportedly destined for the home of former Speaker Bill Barisoff.
James is accused of trying to obtain a $300,000 retirement payout, even after he had already received a $257,988 “retirement benefit” in 2012, approved by Barisoff.
He’s alleged to have directed the purchase of a $13,000 wood splitter and work trailer, which ended up at his home. The wood splitter was seized by the RCMP and the work trailer somehow ended up back at the B.C. legislature. He also billed taxpayers for a $1,138 suitcase, $5,000 worth of digital magazine subscriptions (including Arizona Highways and Palm Springs Life) and $504 for Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
James’s wife accompanied him on an August 2018 trip to London, which Lenz told the Speaker was because the couple wanted to visit their son, who lives in that city.
Previously a clerk assistant in the Saskatchewan legislature, James started his career in B.C. in 1987 when he was appointed clerk assistant and clerk of committees. At that time, he was paid $46,500, but documents show he continued to push for raises over the course of his career.
In 2010, James was hand-picked by the B.C. Liberals to serve as acting chief electoral officer at Elections B.C.
James was in charge of administering the referendum on B.C.’s harmonized sales tax. He made decisions that effectively delayed the anti-HST petition brought forward by those seeking to repeal the tax imposed by the B.C. Liberals. According to Plecas, he also refused to accept a petition to recall a Liberal MLA, on the grounds that it exceeded the maximum word count — by counting MLA and HST as five and three words each.
Following the retirement of longtime clerk George MacMinn in 2011, the Liberal government under then-premier Christy Clark installed James as clerk without the endorsement of all MLAs. The position is a lifetime appointment to ensure the clerk is free from political influence.
The Opposition NDP wanted the clerk’s job posted publicly so applicants could be selected by a bipartisan committee. This week, Premier John Horgan said James was “imposed” on British Columbians and that he leap-frogged two people who were more senior to him.
In 2012, James came under fire for claiming $43,295 from Elections B.C. for travel between Aug. 25, 2010, and Dec. 12, 2010. That included spending more than $14,000 for him and his wife to fly to Nairobi, Kenya, to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association annual conference.
Plecas’s report suggests James is not impartial, as his role requires, but is closely aligned with the B.C. Liberal Party. Horgan questioned why James took two dozen trips at taxpayer expense to visit prominent Liberals across B.C. after they left office.
After the 2017 election, which saw the B.C. Liberals toppled by an NDP-Green alliance, James met with former premier Christy Clark three times in Vancouver. He also had 14 meetings with former attorney general Geoff Plant, according to Plecas’s report.
B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson explained the meetings between James and Plant on Thursday, saying Plant was giving legal advice to the clerk’s office. Expense documents show Plant’s law firm billed the B.C. legislative assembly $185,627 from 2016 to 2018.
Gary Lenz is in charge of security at the B.C. legislature, which includes MLAs and their constituency offices and earns him an annual salary of $218,167. He was the detachment commander of Sidney/North Saanich RCMP until 2005.
During an August 2018 trip to the U.K., Lenz billed the taxpayer $661 for an onyx and silver stud set, a mother-of-pearl stud set, mother-of-pearl cufflinks and a dress shirt. At an October 2018 meeting in Plecas’s office, Lenz offered the Speaker options for potential business trips in 2019, suggesting any location could be justified as a business expense. “Where in the world do you want to go?” Lenz asked.
Although they took foreign trips together and appeared close in public, the Speaker’s report indicates there was a rift between Lenz and James. According to Plecas’s report, Lenz told the Speaker he should not trust James, and implied James was close with members of the B.C. Liberal Party. Lenz also told Plecas that James should be removed from office, and suggested the Speaker build a case against him, forcing him to “go quietly” and resign.
However, Lenz and James drove off together shortly after they were escorted from the legislature on Nov. 20 as the RCMP investigation was announced.
Days later, Lenz appeared next to James at a Vancouver news conference where the two declared their innocence and asked to be reinstated to their positions. Lenz became emotional at the press conference when describing how, on the day of his suspension, his daughter thought something terrible had happened to him after she received messages from people offering their apologies and support.
Lenz and James issued a joint statement on Monday hours after Plecas released his report denying the allegations.
Since 2016, Lenz has been enrolled at Simon Fraser University in the terrorism, risk and security studies master’s program, which has cost taxpayers $23,357 in tuition fees.
Lenz implemented increased security measures at the B.C. legislature in the aftermath of a gun attack on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 2014. Those measures saw X-ray machines and metal detectors installed at the entrance to the legislature in January 2016. Many of the B.C. legislature’s 70 security staff were outfitted with firearms and body armour, and Lenz’s office also received more funding for training.
That year, he also organized a meeting of top security officials from across North America to discuss how to handle threats against people working inside legislative buildings.
Lenz grew up in the small community of Lenswood, Man., attending school in a one-room schoolhouse.
Darryl Plecas was elected as a Liberal MLA for Abbotsford South in 2013. He was kicked out of the Liberal caucus after he agreed to take the Speaker’s job, solidifying the NDP’s grip on power. He now sits as an Independent.
On Dec. 6, Plecas made a fiery speech promising that he would resign if people were not outraged about the financial mismanagement he would eventually expose. Before Plecas released his 76-page report, Wilkinson, the Liberal leader, accused him of going “rogue” and “building his own little empire.”
After the report was released, B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver declared that Plecas had been “vindicated” and called him a “hero” willing to stand up for the average taxpayer. Horgan said Plecas’s independence had laid the groundwork for the spending scandal to be exposed.
Before his life in politics, Plecas spent 34 years working as a criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley. Plecas and his wife have two sons, one of whom died at age 28 in 2015, after he was found unresponsive in an Abbotsford home.
Plecas’s defection from the B.C. Liberals has placed him at the centre of a recall campaign organized by Langley resident Robin Roy.
Originally from Dublin, Alan Mullen was hired in January 2018 as a special adviser to Plecas. He helped compile much of the evidence in the 76-page report released last week, and alongside Plecas, met with the RCMP in September 2018 to hand over information about Lenz and James.
Mullen and Plecas met while they were working at Kent Institution, B.C.’s maximum-security federal prison, where Mullen worked as a correctional officer and Plecas as a prison judge.
Mullen, who is now Plecas’s chief of staff, said much attention was paid to Plecas’s suggestion that Mullen be appointed acting sergeant-at-arms the night before Lenz was suspended. House leaders quickly rejected that idea.
Mullen later told reporters the suggestion was not cronyism, but reflected Plecas’s desire to have someone from outside with a “different vision.” Mullen said that while his and Plecas’s motives have been questioned, their goal has always been protecting B.C. taxpayers.
Mullen sued his former employer Great Canadian Casinos Inc. for wrongful termination in August 2007, claiming he was terminated without cause and without reasonable notice. Mullen was fired after a dispute with his employer over 542 hours of overtime worth $11,465. Documents show the case was either settled or dropped by Mullen prior to a hearing in December 2007.
Kate Ryan-Lloyd has been acting clerk since James’s suspension. According to the Speaker’s report, when Plecas told Ryan-Lloyd that James was asking for a “retirement allowance” that would entitle any legislature executives with 10 years’ service to 12 months of salary when they retired, she replied: “I can’t believe he’s doing it again.”
Plecas learned that in 2012, under then-Speaker Barisoff, James received a $257,988 “retirement benefit,” even though he did not retire. Ryan-Lloyd, former clerk assistant Robert Vaive and law clerk Ian Izard also received the payments. A year later, Ryan-Lloyd returned the $83,235 she received, writing in a February 2013 letter: “On reflection … I continue to be uncomfortable with accepting such a sizable payment as a long-service award.”
Ryan-Lloyd is married to Ken Ryan-Lloyd, who works in the auditor general’s office as a manager of strategic response.
As clerk of the legislative assembly management committee, the all-party committee that oversees the legislature’s finances, Ryan-Lloyd announced in December that senior legislative officers would now be required to post receipts and itemized expenses. This offers more transparency than the previous practice requiring senior legislature officials to post global totals of their yearly expenses. At the same meeting, the committee voted to hire a lawyer in anticipation of the increased legal costs as a result of James and Lenz’s suspensions and pending criminal investigation.
Ryan-Lloyd said the clerk’s budget would need to be hiked for possible legal costs, as “a reflection of an awareness of the circumstances that the office is currently in.”
She has a master’s degree in library science from the University of British Columbia and started her career in the legislature as a librarian in the legislative library.
She moved into the clerk’s office in 1999 and was appointed clerk assistant and clerk of committees before rising to deputy clerk.
Randy Ennis is the acting sergeant-at-arms and was previously Lenz’s deputy. According to the Speaker’s report, Ennis told Plecas that he knew about the incident in which James allegedly directed three legislative staffers to load his pickup truck with alcohol as well as a legislative desk and chair. Ennis described it as a “theft” of liquor and said: “I’m going to lose my job over this one,” according to Plecas.
Ennis told Plecas the liquor incident paled in comparison to the $3,000 wood splitter that was expensed to the legislative assembly, only to be taken to James’s house. Ennis said James and Lenz used it to split firewood. According to the report, Ennis told Plecas there was no legitimate rationale for the legislative assembly to purchase a wood splitter.
Raj Chouhan is the Deputy Speaker and an NDP MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds.
He, Plecas and James travelled to China in June 2018 to sign a letter of intent to conduct goodwill exchanges between the B.C. legislature and Guangdong province.
Chouhan backed up Plecas’s account of an exchange with James over their food per diems during the trip. When Plecas said he would not be claiming a per diem because their hosts had covered the meals, he said James put one hand over his eye, looked at Chouhan and said in a joking tone: “We didn’t get any free meals here. It was full per diems.”
According to expense records, James claimed the full per diems on every day of the trip, while Plecas and Chouhan did not.