Liberals condemn Speaker for cloning computer hard drives of B.C. legislature staff

B.C.’s Opposition Liberals are offering up one of their MLAs to replace Darryl Plecas as Speaker, in a move that could restore order to the legislature but would also strengthen the minority NDP government’s grip on power.

The Liberals are expected to make the offer to Premier John Horgan later Thursday, the Opposition caucus confirmed to Postmedia News.

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If accepted, the move would tilt the balance of power in the NDP’s favour in the house. The Liberals would lose one of their 42 voting members to the Speaker’s chair, leaving them in a tie with the 41-member NDP caucus. The Greens would still hold the balance of power with three votes. Plecas is an independent.

Opposition Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson will address the media Thursday afternoon.

The move comes after Speaker Darryl Plecas’s decision to clone the hard drives of senior staff at the building so that he can gather data for his own unspecified use drew condemnation from some MLAs.

Wilkinson rose in the legislature Thursday to call for staff to be treated respectfully and for Plecas to explain himself.

“We are now aware in the last 24 hours that the speaker has embarked on new intrusions involving employees in this house,” said Wilkinson.

“Some employees seek to insulate or protect themselves from this effort by the speaker while others are leaving or planning to leave.”

The statement comes after Postmedia News reported that Plecas had cloned the hard drives of the acting clerk of the legislature, Kate Ryan-Lloyd, and acting sergeant-at-arms Randy Ennis late Wednesday.

Ryan-Lloyd was seen in tears in the legislature hallway Wednesday after a meeting with Plecas. Ennis announced he is quitting on Friday.

Both positions are officers of the legislature and report to MLAs in the house. The Speaker is not their employer, though he has overall responsibility for the legislative building.

Plecas defended his actions on Thursday, saying he is in charge of security at the legislature.

“It’s simply a case of making sure data is secure because we have experienced incidents here where data has not been kept secure,” he said.

He lashed out at Wilkinson, calling his comments “ridiculous” and questions about his actions “absurd.”

A Liberal staffer was so worried Plecas was going to try and access computer data in the Opposition offices that he slept in the office overnight to prevent anyone from entering.

“I have responsibility for security, I’m making sure we have proper security with respect to data,” said Plecas.

Plecas described the hard drive cloning program as “voluntary” but said the data also needs to be backed up for current and future investigations.

“It is simply the case of saying we need to make sure that we have data secured,” he said. “We have ongoing investigations. We do not want an instance where we have data not available to investigators. It’s that simple.”

He said the move is not part of a current investigation but also repeated that more will be investigated at the building.

“I’m not saying there’s no other investigations coming up,” said Plecas. “But I’m in certainly in no way saying the interest in protecting in securing data was related to anything specific.”

The actions also prompted a meeting Wednesday night involving the premier’s chief of staff Geoff Meggs and head of the civil service Don Wright.

“Employees must be treated fairly,” said Wilkinson. “Arbitrary and unaccountable actions must stop.”

The legislature is set to adjourn its spring session Thursday afternoon. It would not reconvene until the fall. Wilkinson raised the idea of remaining in session to get to the bottom of what has happened.

“This house must also sit until the air is cleared about the events of the last 24 hours,” he said.

Plecas has hired an information technology firm to clone hard drives of senior staff members at the legislature, Postmedia News has learned.

The move would give Plecas a mirror copy of all the files on the work computers of the top civil servants that run the building, as well as files related to human resources, pay and benefits for MLAs and staff.

The speaker taking a copy of that sensitive data prompted an emergency meeting of the house leaders of the legislature’s three parties Thursday morning.

It also prompted Opposition leader Wilkinson to convene two additional meetings with NDP government house leader Mike Farnworth Thursday.

The house leaders are expected to make a statement later Thursday.

Ryan-Lloyd and Ennis were appointed acting officials after Plecas raised allegations of misspending against former clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.

Retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, was brought in to review the allegations.

Her report, released this month, found James had committed misconduct related to a retirement bonus, suits, luggage and a wood splitter he kept at his home. James retired.

McLachlin cleared Lenz of any misconduct as an employee.

He remains suspended because the RCMP is still investigating the case, under the supervision of two special prosecutors. No charges have been laid.

Meanwhile, also Thursday, Farnworth announced an all-party committee of MLAs who will conduct interviews to find a new permanent clerk.

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