There have now been three exchanges of flaming correspondence between Speaker Darryl Plecas and the two suspended legislature officers.
The animosity level is off the charts, particularly on the Speaker’s side. But the level of clarity is going in the other direction.
Pick a topic, any topic, and then compare Plecas’s views with those of the suspended legislature officers:
• The wood splitter — Plecas says clerk Craig James billed the legislature $13,000 for a wood splitter and trailer for disaster response, then parked it at his home. He even had a concrete pad poured for it. The Speaker’s chief of staff, Alan Mullen, has pictures to prove it, and also noted signs of use.
Plecas said others told him: “James and [sergeant-at-arms Gary] Lenz were using it to split firewood.”
James said it was an approved purchase and he stored it because they couldn’t find room at the legislature. Lenz denied ever using the machine, and both men said Lenz had never been to James’ house before their suspensions.
• A truck full of booze — Plecas said the “alleged truckload of alcohol” warrants investigation. James is said to have loaded his truck at the legislature with leftover alcohol in 2013, then driven to the Okanagan to deliver it to former speaker Bill Barisoff.
James said: “I categorically deny taking $10,000 of liquor to Mr. Barisoff, or otherwise.”
He did deliver some other items and a smaller quantity of booze, and got a cheque from Barisoff payable to the legislature ($370) for the liquor.
Plecas returned fire this week, demanding to know why the clerk would spend two days on the chore and bill expenses.
• Luggage — Plecas said James bought a $1,000 piece of luggage at the airport in Hong Kong and expensed it.
James said he bought it because several MLAs thought there should be a small pool of luggage available for any MLAs or staff on official travel.
“The Speaker himself had complained to me that he felt they did not have sufficient luggage.”
Plecas this week cited a few more expensive luggage buys and said no one at the legislature knows about any “loaner luggage.”
If there is such a thing, the Bay in Victoria sells bags for $150, he said.
“No one who respects taxpayer money would purchase a $645 piece in an overseas airport boutique.”
• Work ethic — Plecas says James and Lenz didn’t work very hard. People told him James was rarely at work on Fridays, he said. And since his suspension, the acting clerk’s workload “hasn’t increased all that much with duties that would have been previously undertaken by Mr. James. That speaks volumes.”
As for Lenz: “His workday, to my observation, was not a stressful one — he would go place to place with a coffee or tea in hand to chat with people for lengthy periods.”
He made the claims to back up his complaint about them cashing out vacation time, rather than taking holidays. But Lenz said he worked long hours in addition to scheduled time, which is lengthy during the months the house sits. He said he often works evenings and weekends.
“Vacation time is only taken as work permits it, which is not often. My family have supported me in this … we see this as a sacrifice, as a service to society.”
James said he had regular Friday meetings and works like an MLA does — 24/7.
There are now dozens of points of contention about everything from cufflinks to life insurance policies in more than 170 pages of tit-for-tat correspondence full of accusations of errors, falsehoods and lies.
Mullen outlined the strategic view of the arguments as far as the Speaker’s office is concerned on Friday.
He said Column A is the allegations of criminality, now in the hands of the RCMP. Column B is the accusations of policy and procedure breaches, covered in the various reports.
He said Column C is the court of public opinion, a “very important” arena, where the public is objecting to the cascading allegations.
“That’s a very loud voice and it’s getting louder and louder,” he said.
That’s where the Speaker is now waging the war, and that looks to be where he’s winning it.