Taxpayers paid for even more lavish foreign trips: Speaker

A $40,000, five-day trip to England and $10,000-plus trip to Sri Lanka are among the lavish items the public bankrolled, Speak Darryl Plecas claims in his newest report into the legislature spending scandal

A five-day, nearly $40,000 trip to England in 2011 for B.C.’s three highest-ranking legislature officials is one of several questionable travel expenses detailed in the newest report by Speaker Darryl Plecas into the recent spending scandal.

“The trips of Mr. Lenz and Mr. James have the appearance of loosely justifiable travel on the public purse rather than necessary expenses,” Plecas writes about Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, who were both suspended in November in the midst of an investigation into spending at the legislature.

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Plecas, in a new 32-page report released Thursday, mentions in a footnote that a Dec. 4 to 9, 2011, trip to London, England, that James and Lenz took with then-speaker Bill Barisoff cost taxpayers $37,180.84. He alleges little work was done on many trips taken by James and Lenz, and that the men had expensive tastes.

Plecas wrote that he has only seen detailed receipts for their travel in 2017 and 2018, and hinted more damning allegations could emerge in future audits because “in each of 2014 and 2016, Mr. James claimed approximately $70,000 for travel and Mr. Lenz $30,000.”

In legal responses released Thursday, James and Lenz continue to strenuously deny any wrongdoing, complain of unfair treatment due to the Speaker’s “highly prejudicial” reports, and insist they should get their jobs back.

“The concerns raised by the Speaker do not justify Mr. James’ removal,” writes lawyer Mark Andrews. “There is no reason why the RCMP investigation (and any other investigation deemed appropriate) cannot be completed with him back in his position.”

After investigating both men for almost a year, Plecas released a bombshell report in January into alleged misspending by both men. James and Lenz issued detailed denials on Feb. 8, and Plecas chips away at those explanations in his new report released Thursday.

MLAs from all parties also agreed Thursday to find a retired judge to investigate Plecas’s findings, which will be in addition to a workplace review and a forensic audit by the B.C. auditor general. A separate police investigation is being overseen by two special prosecutors.

The $37,000 trip to England in 2011 came just months after James became clerk. Lenz sent a briefing note to James three weeks before the trip, asking permission for the two of them and Barisoff to “unveil the Black Rod of British Columbia to honour Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 … to meet with representatives from the House of Lords, so that they can present us with an engraved ring that will be incorporated into the Black Rod.”

He estimates in the memo that the trip will cost approximately $10,000.

Receipts attached to Plecas’s report illustrate how the men spent $37,000 in just five days:

• Lenz, for example, flew first-class to Heathrow, which cost more than $11,000 when all the fees were added in. Other expenses included a hotel that cost $486.32 per night and $1,084.01 in “corporate gifts” from the House of Lords, including a Christmas pudding, spirit decanter, cufflinks, towel, guidebook, umbrella, playing cards, mint tins, dictionaries and computer mouse mats.

• Barisoff also expensed close to $11,000 for the cost of his flights, and other items including a $9 laundry/valet bill from the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge hotel in London. This appears to have prompted an employee with the legislative comptroller’s office to note in an email that laundry fees are not usually covered until someone is away for more than seven days.

• James hosted a “protocol lunch” that cost $197.13.

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