MLAs back hiring of Beverley McLachlin for legislature expenses probe

B.C. politicians have set detailed terms for a retired chief justice selected to investigate allegations of misspending at the legislature.

The all-party legislature management committee released Thursday five specific allegations it has asked Beverley McLachlin to probe into suspended clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Craig James.

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The legislature voted unanimously Thursday to approve the management committee’s recommendation to hire McLachlin in a vote of the entire house.

Premier John Horgan said McLachlin is the best choice for the job and it gives him confidence in the investigation that she has accepted the role.

“I think this is great that she’s got the time to put into this,” he said Thursday. “This gives me confidence that the special prosecutors and any criminal investigation that’s underway will not be compromised by the work of the Speaker’s office.

“I mean that I’m more comfortable knowing that Beverley McLachlin is overseeing this than if it was just the members of the legislature, [legislative assembly management committee] members to do it,” he said.

“It think this is great news for British Columbians, it gives me confidence, and it should give them confidence that we have someone of very high calibre that understands the law and will not run afoul of the criminal investigation underway, and that’s good news for those under a cloud as well.”

NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said McLachlin will conduct a “confidential, impartial and independent investigation into allegations concerning the clerk Craig James and the sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz that were raised by the Speaker.”

That includes “a confidential fact-finding to determine whether, either or both Mr. James and Mr. Lenz … engaged in misconduct in the course of their employment.”

McLachlin is asked to investigate whether any of the following allegations are true and, if so, whether they constitute misconduct by James and Lenz:

• Whether they improperly and knowingly received improper payouts of vacation pay by reason of their failure to record vacation leave.

• Whether they improperly made purchases of a personal nature and expensed them to the legislature.

• Whether they improperly claimed and received retirement allowances.

• Whether they improperly removed legislature assets and property.

• Whether they improperly used legislature property beyond an incidental or reasonable work-related purpose.

The specific allegations build upon a motion passed by the legislature management committee Wednesday to hire McLachlin and have her present a final report to the legislature by May 3.

McLachlin, a retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, is expected to review the reports made by Speaker Darryl Plecas, the replies by James and Lenz, as well as Plecas’s subsequent reply to their reply.

Plecas has alleged misspending by James and Lenz, including on personal items such as suits, headphones, alcohol, retirement benefits, vacation pay and lavish international trips he said were de facto vacations.

James and Lenz have denied any wrongdoing and said their expenses were approved by Plecas. Neither man has been charged with any crime. They were suspended with pay by MLAs in November, after it was revealed two special prosecutors were overseeing an RCMP investigation into their conduct.

The terms of reference for McLachlin call for a fair, impartial and independent investigation, with the power to obtain any legislature documents and interview anyone she deems appropriate.

McLachlin’s investigation is only one of many underway at the legislature. Auditor general Carol Bellringer has begun a forensic audit of the building’s finances.

MLAs also approved a plan to hire an independent consultant to conduct a workplace review of the legislature’s human resources concerns. Plecas has alleged staff were inappropriately fired under the clerk and sergeant-at-arms. A detailed work plan on how to conduct the review is set to come before MLAs by May 1.

Also released this week were suggested reforms for the building by the governing NDP caucus and house leader Farnworth.

The NDP recommended making it clear that MLAs, not the Speaker, are the employer and supervisor of permanent officers and staff at the legislature.

In a letter, the NDP proposes amendments “which will place the responsibility for appointment, supervision and management of permanent officers of the legislature with the committee unless specifically delegated to the Speaker or another officer.”

The NDP recommendations also call for more bi-monthly meetings of the all-party legislative committee to “ensure that all expenses incurred by permanent officers and senior staff of the legislative assembly and the Speaker be disclosed online within 30 days” and to seek legal advice to recover any improper expense claims.

If enacted, the suggestions would also ban foreign travel by anyone without pre-approval by the committee, and set out clearly that “personal gifts are not considered as legitimate expenses.”

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