Editorial: People who run the legislature are careless with our money

They don’t care about looking after your money, and they don’t care how hard you work to earn that money. They just don’t care. By “they,” we mean the people who run the provincial legislature. The people we elect, the people they hire as senior staff members, the people we should be able to trust.

Is there another way to interpret the report filed by Carol Bellringer, the province’s auditor general, on the outrageous expense claims filed by the three senior offices at the B.C. legislature?

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The people in charge had been warned of this out-of-control spending; it’s been a dozen years since Bellringer’s predecessor, John Doyle, started asking questions about the spending habits in the legislative assembly.

It took him five years to get at the books, because the clerk of the legislature repeatedly refused to hand them over.

In 2011, Doyle reported his findings to Bill Barisoff, the Speaker at the time. The report was scathing, but Barisoff did nothing, and the elected members, both Liberal and New Democrat, hid under their desks to avoid dealing with the sense of entitlement that the report had revealed.

The report was finally made public in July 2012, when Barisoff was pushed by the media and by Doyle himself. The information it contained revealed, at best, neglect and incompetence. As an example, MLAs did not provide proper documentation for their credit card charges, yet the government was paying the bills.

A Times Colonist editorial in response to the report said that taxpayers deserved nothing less than a basic, straightforward account. “A receipt for every expense, and every expenditure recorded properly. Regular financial statements. Proper budgeting. Regular and effective meetings with the management committee.”

We’re still waiting for openness and accountability. The people with their hands in our pockets might not heed the words of a newspaper, but if they had any human decency, they would know that what has been happening is wrong.

The Doyle report meant nothing, it seems, to the clerk, the sergeant-at-arms and to those in the Speaker’s office. They continued to spend willy-nilly, and to hell with British Columbia’s taxpayers.

Speaker Darryl Plecas opened the door to the financial irregularities and deserves some praise for doing that. But don’t be too hasty with that praise; after all, travel spending in his office tripled over the past year and Plecas is in no hurry to explain why.

His chief of staff spent $13,000 on a road trip to three provinces and seven states. To study security at the legislatures, we are told. But why?

We don’t know. Meanwhile, Plecas has vowed to do his utmost “to support increased and much-needed accountability and transparency at the legislative assembly.” Starting when?

While we are waiting, consider these shining examples of fiscal prudence on Belleville Street:

Former clerk Craig James spent $56,641 on travel and approved it himself. He had us pay for $20,093 in art and $18,783 for gifts. Between them, James and suspended sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz spent $17,222 on clothing, including a $2,686 court robe and vest and $571 for four shirts and a pair of suspenders.

Were these expenses legitimate? Who can say? Neither James nor Lenz has been charged with any crime.

Perhaps their spending is just another shining example of business as usual in the hallowed halls of the legislature, occupied as it is by so many people out of touch with reality.

Will our MLAs — New Democrat, Liberal and Green — finally start showing respect for the people of British Columbia? Will they rein in the staggering abuse of power, the disgusting sense of entitlement and the utter disregard for their constituents?

Or will things just carry on, giving fuel to a report from another auditor general in a few years?

As it is, we know they don’t care about the misuse of taxpayer dollars. We know that they have been warned before and that they chose to ignore Doyle’s words.

So don’t count on meaningful changes. Until the people rise up in the streets to protest the abuse, our elected officials have no incentive to work on our behalf. They just don’t care.

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