Weaver calls on MLA Linda Reid to step down over whistleblower’s claims

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver: It’s essential to restore trust; MLA and assistant deputy Speaker Linda Reid: We must respect the process

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver is calling on Liberal MLA Linda Reid to step down as assistant deputy Speaker after a whistleblower connected her to the expense scandal at the legislature.

Connor Gibson told Global News that he’s the anonymous whistleblower in Plecas’s report and said he was asked by Reid to file what he felt were inappropriate expenses. Gibson has not responded to a request for comment from the Times Colonist.

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The report by Speaker Darryl Plecas says the whistleblower was fired for raising concerns about double-dipping by an MLA who allegedly filed both mileage claims and taxi expenses for the same trip. The report also alleges clerk of the legislature Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, who are now suspended, tried to sweep an investigation into the expenses under the rug.

The whistleblower shed light on the “culture of entitlement” in the legislature, Weaver said, and was “allegedly dismissed for questioning the expense claims of B.C. Liberal MLA and assistant deputy Speaker of the house Linda Reid.”

> For more on the legislature expenses turmoil, go to timescolonist.com/more

Weaver said Reid should step aside as assistant deputy Speaker, a call he does not take lightly since the MLA for Richmond South is the longest-serving member in the legislature.

He said it’s essential to restore public trust in light of a report that alleges “flagrant overspending” of taxpayers’ money by James and Lenz and subsequent attempts to cover it up.

“I cannot see how that is possible when one of the individuals named by this whistleblower is still holding a position of power and oversight in the legislature,” Weaver said. “Positions such as assistant deputy Speaker have an even higher threshold for trust given the responsibility they hold in serving the entire legislature.”

Reid served as Speaker of the B.C. legislature from 2013 to 2017. In 2014, she came under fire for billing the taxpayers for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses, including more than $48,000 for a custom touch-screen computer terminal in the legislature chamber, almost $14,000 for new drapes at the legislature dining room and a $733 muffin cart.

In a statement Wednesday, Reid did not directly address allegations that she told a staffer to file improper expenses, saying: “As the auditor conducts their investigation, I will make myself fully available. I will work with the auditor and any other investigators to ensure the protection of taxpayer dollars. I feel it’s important to respect the process of the current investigations in order to ensure the public is provided with a full account of the entire situation.”

Reid said she’s encouraged that the legislative assembly management committee unanimously approved a comprehensive financial audit, to be conducted by an auditor general of another province, to address the issues raised in Speaker’s the report.

“The B.C. Liberal caucus has been calling for this action for months, and it is critical for the public’s confidence in their legislature that we receive an accurate and independent review of spending,” Reid said in the statement.

NDP MLA Gary Begg, who also sits on the all-party committee that oversees the legislature’s finances, said many of the allegations of misspending took place when Reid was Speaker. Begg said it’s disturbing that Reid kept silent when James was paid out more than a quarter of a million dollars and questioned how a human resources report into the payout disappeared from the Speaker’s vault during her tenure.

According to Plecas’s report, Reid was warned in January 2014, through an internal report by then-director of human resources Jo-Anne Kern, that James had received a $257,000 retirement benefit even though he didn’t retire.

Then-auditor general John Doyle also flagged the “unusual compensation” payments in his 2012 audit of the legislative assembly.

“It would appear Linda Reid kept silent even when she knew that was happening and even today, she’s silent,” Begg said.

According to Plecas’s report, James allegedly attempted to receive another retirement payout by asking the Speaker to sign off on a “transition payment” of 12 months’ salary for legislature executives who leave after 10 years of service. For James, who is paid an annual salary of $347,090, it would amount to more than $300,000 “on top of his sizable pension,” Plecas wrote.

Plecas wrote that he signed the form so James would not dispose of the document. He later rescinded the benefit.

James and Lenz, who have been suspended with pay since they were marched out of the legislature on Nov. 20, are accused of creating a systemic culture of misspending that evaded the checks and balances of the B.C. legislature.

Allegations of lavish overseas trips and personal expenses charged to the taxpayer, inappropriate employment benefits and cash payments in lieu of vacation time add up to millions of dollars, the report says.

James and Lenz issued a statement Monday, saying the allegations are “false and untrue” and the report was released to further blacken their reputations.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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