Speaker could shed light today on allegations of legislature missteps

Speaker Darryl Plecas will be given the opportunity to show his hand today in the wake of allegations he made in December about widespread financial mismanagement at the B.C. legislature.

The all-party committee that oversees financial management of the legislature meets Monday and Plecas previously promised to give more details about his demand for audits of the offices of the legislature clerk and sergeant-at-arms, the results of which he vowed will outrage the public.

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At the Dec. 6 legislative assembly management committee meeting, Plecas, Independent MLA for Abbotsford South, railed about the need for full forensic audits to shine a light on alleged financial mismanagement in the two offices. He pledged to resign if the outcome of the audits did not make taxpayers “throw up.”

He said the Speaker’s office should also be audited and promised it would come out clean.

Clerk of the house Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, senior managers of the legislature, were marched out of the building under police escort on Nov. 20 following a unanimous vote by MLAs to place them on administrative leave while an investigation continued.

Neither the RCMP nor the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch have given any information on the allegations against the men, and Lenz and James have said they have no idea why they are being investigated.

Liberal house leader Mary Polak said her party still doesn’t have essential information, such as how Plecas and his special adviser, Alan Mullen, carried out the investigation that led to MLAs voting in favour of suspending Lenz and James. Information from that probe was passed to the RCMP in August.

“We’re still there with all the same outstanding information and waiting to see what the Speaker decides to reveal on Monday, and I guess we’ll have to go from there,” Polak said Friday.

“The Speaker has made a whole bunch of allegations, and he says it and doesn’t back it up.”

NDP house leader Mike Farnworth was not available for an interview Friday, but has strongly cautioned against the release of any information that could jeopardize the RCMP investigation.

At the Dec. 19 legislative assembly management committee meeting, members passed a motion to hire a lawyer to advise on how much can be publicly discussed during a police investigation.

According to the agenda for Monday, members will discuss the legal opinion behind closed doors before Plecas makes his report. That could rein in how much Plecas is able to disclose.

On Dec. 6, Plecas said “very serious concerns” were brought to him early in his tenure as Speaker “about certain activities that were taking place within the legislative assembly.” He said when he learned of the behaviour, which he believed was criminal in nature, he “felt a great duty to safeguard the integrity of this institution.”

However, he declined to answer questions from Polak as to whether the allegations relate to fraud.

University of Victoria political scientist Michael Prince said Plecas will have to walk a fine line between backing up the dramatic statements he made in December and not compromising the police investigation.

“With the RCMP investigation, I think it’s very risky for the Speaker to say much about this,” Prince said. “This is more about the Speaker trying to reaffirm his own legitimacy. Whatever happens Monday will have an impact on his credibility.”

Prince expects that retired judge Wally Oppal, who was hired as a second special adviser to Plecas in November, will provide advice on how much Plecas can reveal.

Oppal declined to comment in advance of the meeting.

The B.C. RCMP said they have no update to provide on their investigation. Spokeswoman Sgt. Janelle Shoihet would not disclose how many investigators have been assigned and from which division.

“An investigative team has been assigned to handle this file. They will have access to any subject-matter experts necessary as the investigation progresses,” Shoihet said. “We respect that there remains many questions around our ongoing investigation. We are not in a position to share any further specifics or details around what is an active and ongoing police investigation. We are also mindful that [two] special prosecutors have been appointed and they will be the ones we will discuss our investigation with as and when necessary for independent assessment/review.”

James is chief administrative officer for the legislature. He has been clerk since 2011 and has a lifetime appointment to the job. He is responsible for its $70-million annual budget and procedural matters.

Lenz, former head of Sidney/North Saanich RCMP, is in charge of security at the B.C. legislature.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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