B.C. Liberals question trip by legislature Speaker’s aide

Speaker Darryl Plecas’s chief of staff is on an extensive road trip to collect security-related information from other cities in Canada and the U.S., but Liberal house leader Mary Polak says the B.C. legislature doesn’t know the destinations of the trip or how much it will cost.

“I am doing a multi jurisdictional forward-looking review that has been in the works for quite some time with the speaker, acting clerk and chief financial officer,” Alan Mullen said Monday in text messages to Postmedia.

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“It is looking at … security policies and procedures.”

Mullen said he has left on his journey, which involves driving instead of flying, and could not speak by phone.

“The itinerary and cost analysis was done long ago and am meeting with lots of different clerks, sergeant-at-arms, directors, police chiefs etc. Driving and giving up my summer is the cheapest way to do so and will greatly benefit the B.C. legislature.”

Polak wrote a letter to Plecas, Mullen’s boss, on Friday demanding to know more information about the trip, including whether the Speaker received a detailed itinerary with a cost estimate prior to approving Mullen’s travel.

She also wanted to know if a cost comparison was done to ensure driving was cheaper than flying, and she asked whether Mullen was travelling alone. As of Monday, she had not received a response to her letter.

Mullen played a key role in uncovering a spending scandal at the B.C. legislature year. He and Plecas raised concerns over travel and other expenses submitted by sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and now-retired legislature clerk Craig James.

Liberal MLAs on the legislative assembly management committee asked for a full itinerary of Mullen’s trip at the last meeting on July 3.

Polak received an emailed response from Mullen, but she said she wants more answers because he provided just “a rough list” of the places he was thinking of visiting and the “types of people” he was hoping to meet. She said Mullen did not identify anyone by name.

“In Canada, it was Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, perhaps Ottawa. In the United States, he had quite a slew of states,” Polak said.

“I’m not aware of any particular expertise [Mullen] has with respect to reviewing security provisions at the legislature.”

Travel outside B.C. that is funded by taxpayers must be approved by the Speaker, Polak said, so she wants to know if Plecas has a more concrete outline of where his chief of staff is going and why.

Postmedia could not reach Plecas on Monday. However, at the July 3 legislative assembly management committee meeting, he defended Mullen’s trip.

“That matter was discussed with the acting clerk and the director of finance before it was ultimately decided that he [Mullen] would be doing this review. There was no question we were going to be doing a review of security matters at the legislature,” Plecas said, according to the meeting minutes recorded on Hansard.

He said it would have been expensive to book flights to various cities and rent cars once there. “So the decision was made for the review to take place with him simply driving to these locations and visiting one jurisdiction after another. That includes a number of jurisdictions in Canada and the United States.”

On Friday, Postmedia reported that another investigation into the suspended legislature sergeant-at-arms, who oversaw security in the building, had been launched by Plecas.

Lenz was cleared recently of allegations of misspending by an investigation by Beverley McLachlin, the former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice. But Plecas commissioned a new investigation of Lenz, under the Police Act, based on a complaint filed by Mullen, Polak said last week.

Lenz and James were suspended on Nov. 20, 2018 after Plecas alleged the two had spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on questionable purchases, inappropriate workplace vacations or retirement benefits.

In May, James retired as part of a “non-financial settlement” with the legislature after McLachlin’s report found he violated four of five areas of his employment. Lenz has said he felt exonerated by McLachlin’s findings and hopes to resume his duties.

Two special prosecutors were appointed to oversee an RCMP investigation. Neither James nor Lenz has been charged with any crime.

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