Spending abuse claims expose failure by past Liberal government: B.C. premier
Published Thursday, January 24, 2019 10:03AM PST Last Updated Thursday, January 24, 2019 6:23PM PST
VICTORIA - Premier John Horgan says a call to clean up the British Columbia legislature should not absolve the Opposition Liberals from explaining allegations of spending abuses by two top officials dating back to when the party was in power.
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Thursday all parties must work together to restore public confidence at the legislature following the release of a report by Speaker Darryl Plecas outlining the alleged spending practices of clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.
Lenz and James were placed on administrative leave in November during an ongoing police investigation. Both men deny any wrongdoing and say the allegations will be proven untrue.
Horgan said the report's claim of a culture of entitlement at the legislature during a period of successive Liberal governments cannot be erased by Wilkinson's plea to embark on a house cleaning mission.
“I will not allow the leader of the Opposition to pretend that this just happened,” said Horgan. “This is a result of years of entitlement in this institution. It's offensive to me. It's offensive to British Columbians.”
He said the report by Plecas - who was expelled from the Liberal caucus in 2017 after taking the Speaker's job because it cleared the way for the NDP to form a minority government - details alleged abuses dating back to 2012, five years before the Liberals lost power. Plecas now sits as an Independent in the legislature.
The NDP premier described the report as coming at a “unique moment in time” when the legislature has an Independent Speaker who has outlined allegations from documents that are exempt from freedom of information requests and public scrutiny.
He said two previous Liberal Speakers, Linda Reid and Bill Barisoff, overlap with the time James and Lenz have been in the house.
The NDP and Greens say Reid, who served as Speaker from 2013 to 2017, must answer questions about Lenz and James when she oversaw business in the house.
Green Leader Andrew Weaver called for Reid to step aside as assistant deputy Speaker over allegations made by an unnamed whistleblower in Plecas's report. The report says the whistleblower raised concerns last February about the travel expenses of a member of the legislature, which it doesn't name.
The report says the whistleblower was fired shortly after meeting with Lenz. The man who says he was the whistleblower told Global TV on Tuesday that the legislature member was Reid. The man could not be reached for comment.
Reid issued a statement that said she will co-operate with any investigation by an auditor or other investigators. She has not been available to comment on the allegations by the whistleblower or her tenure as Speaker.
Horgan did not call for Reid to step down as assistant deputy Speaker on Thursday, saying her future in the post is up to Wilkinson because “this place operates on the principle that the Opposition nominates the assistant deputy Speaker.”
Wilkinson would only say there may be role changes for some people once all the investigations are complete.
“Everyone involved in this, no matter how they are being alleged to be involved, needs to be completely forthright with the auditor general so we can clarify all of these issues,” he said.
Wilkinson called for the immediate public posting online of all legislature expenses, a ban on foreign travel unless approved six weeks in advance by the all-party committee that manages the legislature's finances, and a review of accounting procedures by the auditor general.
“It's time for the political sniping to stop from all parties,” he said. “We're going to look like a pack of idiots.”
The legislative assembly management committee, which Plecas chairs, voted Monday to release the report, conduct a workplace review and ask an auditor from outside B.C. to review legislature financial issues. James and Lenz were given until Feb. 1 to respond.
The 76-page report by Plecas alleges that Lenz and James were allowed to overspend on trips, purchase personal items at taxpayers' expense, and misappropriate alcohol and equipment.
Attempts to reach James and Lenz since the report was released have not been successful, but on Monday they said in a statement they had only just learned of its contents.
“We are only now able to read the allegations for the first time and we are confident that time will show that they are completely false and untrue,” said their statement.