Speaker tried to place friend in sergeant-of-arms role amid criminal probe: Liberals
Another bizarre day at the B.C. Legislature saw a former attorney general appointed to help advise the Speaker of the House amid a criminal probe into two senior staffers.
Retired judge and former attorney general Wally Oppal has been appointed to advise speaker Darryl Plecas on legal matters, it was announced Thursday.
It comes amid a criminal probe into Clerk of the Legislature Craig James at Sergeant-At-Arms Gary Lenz that has been shrouded in mystery.
The drama began Tuesday, when James and Lenz were placed on administrative leave in a unanimous house vote and led out of the building by police officers.
The allegations against Lenz and James remain unknown and two special prosecutors have been appointed to the case.
Another dramatic turn came Thursday morning, when Liberal house leader Mary Polak publicly released a sworn affidavit saying Plecas tried to install his own special advisor and long-time friend, Alan Mullen, as the acting sergeant-at-arms in the B.C. legislature the day before Lenz and James were suspended.
Polak said she attended a meeting Monday night with Plecas, NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth, Green House Leader Sonia Furstenau and a lawyer.
"During that meeting, speaker Darryl Plecas stated his wish that Mullen be appointed as acting sergeant-at-arms in the legislature after the departure of Gary Lenz from that position," said Polak. "Our response was no, quite firmly."
She said Farnworth also rejected the request.
Asked what the problem was with Plecas trying to install Mullen as interim sergeant-at-arms, Polak replied: "It's inappropriate."
Wilkinson expressed concern over Mullen's legal experience after learning he had headed up the in-house probe.
"I think all of us are concerned we found out yesterday a seven-month investigation was being conducted by someone with no legal training or policing experience," he said.
Reporters were told that Plecas himself would hold a media availability Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m., but later found out that Plecas would not be speaking to media – instead having Mullen announce Oppal's appointment.
"The second special advisor is the honourable justice Wally Oppal. We could not be more honoured and pleased that justice Oppal has agreed to come on as second special advisor," said Mullen. "We look forward to meeting him tomorrow morning."
Mullen headed the secret in-house investigation into Lenz and James, which led to an RCMP criminal probe being launched over the summer. He said he was hired by Plecas to help fulfill duties that included the investigation, which he has been involved in since at least January.
"The RCMP investigation is ongoing. The RCMP can speak to that if and when they're able to," he said 24 hours earlier. "We're at this place. It's an unfortunate place to be at. I think everybody's coming together to make sure the house can perform the duties, the members can do their jobs, and this place can function."
Mullen also referred to himself as a friend of Plecas in Wednesday's news conference.
Oppal was elected as a BC Liberal MLA in 2005 and appointed as Attorney General for B.C. He spoke with CTV News about the legislature investigation a day before his appointment, saying that the public should be patient for details to come out. He also said he had no intimate knowledge of what the allegations were.
The RCMP have not disclosed the nature of the investigation into Lenz and James. All investigators say is that the investigation relates to the pair's administrative duties and responsibilities.
The role of the sergeant-at-arms is to ensure the house and its members are protected during sessions, while the legislature clerk helps with direction and administration of the legislative assembly.
Lenz is earning $218,000 a year for his work, while James is one of the legislature's top-paid administrators at $347,000 a year.