We passed each other in the hallway a dozen times a day. We’d exchange pleasant digs with one another. I’d tease them about their vast responsibilities, they’d give me digs about my puny role in comparison, and cite dress code violations to boot.
Occasionally slightly more serious information would be exchanged — a heads-up about something on the agenda, or mundane gossip about what’s going on. My last exchange with one of them Monday afternoon was some easy-going speculation about the electoral reform referendum.
It was an enjoyable working relationship with the two most senior officials in the B.C. legislature. We wouldn’t call each other friends. But we are friendly acquaintances.
All of which is to say: I am pretty compromised when it comes to passing rigorously impartial judgments on the surreal developments of Tuesday morning, when both men were suspended and escorted out the door on literally a moment’s notice.
Clerk of the legislature Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz are on leave and barred from setting foot anywhere in the legislative precinct, while the machinery of what looks to be a significant criminal investigation kicks into high gear. It’s as shocking to write that sentence as it was to watch it unfold live.
In a place where 87 rambunctious politicians fling charges at each other with abandon, the two quietest people in the room end up doing perp walks.
“Clerk” doesn’t do the job justice, as James functions as the CEO of a $70-million-a-year enterprise that the legislature represents. And Lenz is his right-hand man on matters of security, custody of documents and other aspects of keeping the show rolling.
There are lots of rules to live by, lots of opportunities to fall short, and lots of people who would notice. But to watch the executive level of the legislature get decapitated in the space of a few seconds was a remarkable sight.
Government house leader Mike Farnworth, who had briefed Premier John Horgan the night before, interrupted a cabinet minister two sentences into the morning’s business. In a shaky voice he moved a motion that both men be put on administrative leave with pay, effective immediately; and that “as a consequence of an outstanding investigation” they be barred from access to the legislature network and physically barred from the buildings.
Speaker Darryl Plecas had summoned James and Lenz to his office just moments before and delivered the news face-to-face. James said later that the Speaker appeared distressed.
B.C. Liberal and Green house leaders were given the briefest of warnings that the motion was coming, and that it needed approval. It came so suddenly it barely had time to register, and was read without objection. There was a moment of collective astonishment throughout the buildings and then proceedings resumed.
James emerged from his office later clutching some cycling gear accompanied by Victoria police and a special adviser to the Speaker, Alan Mullen. James spent several minutes answering mystified reporters’ questions.
The main takeaway was that he was as mystified as everyone else. No clue it was coming. Shock. Numb. Getting a lawyer.
He expressed a degree of resentment about the lack of an explanation for why they were being relieved of their duties. But he thanked his escorts for being respectful.
Some scant details emerged later. Victoria police were made aware of some initial allegations some time ago. The RCMP took over the case later. The force on Sept. 28 requested the assistant deputy attorney general appoint a special prosecutor. The assistant deputy on Oct. 1 decided that given the potential size and scope of the investigation, two of them were needed.
So they’ve been on the case for seven weeks before matters got to the point where the pair’s removal was deemed necessary.
Able replacements are on hand and the show must go on.
As someone who spent years watching and interacting with two senior officials who are no longer allowed anywhere near the place, there’s a tough lesson looming ahead. It’s about one of those principles that gets a lot more lip service than real observance — the need to suspend judgement until all the facts are in.
I’ve routinely failed that test in the past. Time to step up and try again.