B.C. VIEWS: Speaker Darryl Plecas splits legislature looting spree open

Long road to accountability began with MLA disclosures

Clerk of the House Craig James (left) accompanies Speaker Darryl Plecas to the B.C. legislature chamber after Plecas’s surprise election to the position, September, 2017. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press/pool)

B.C. Legislature Speaker Darryl Plecas promised sickening revelations of flagrantly abusive and possibly fraudulent financial actions by the legislature’s two top managers. He has delivered.

The documented activities in Plecas’s now-public report justify his decision to call in the police and have Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant at Arms Gary Lenz suspended from their jobs last November. Long after the current political finger-pointing is forgotten, Plecas will go down in history as the man who split open the rotting wall of self-serving secrecy that has protected the highest officials of B.C.’s governing structure.

He did that by joining their exclusive club, gaining access to their habits and records, and resisting the rewards offered to him. Here are a few examples.

Plecas declined to expense a tailored suit, which all three bought on one of two trips to London that were billed as being for business meetings. Those turned out to be mostly “meet and greet” affairs, included a brief sit-down with a member of Britain’s security service, MI5, that didn’t need to be in person, Plecas wrote.

RELATED NEWS: Taxpayers deserve their money back, Plecas says

On that first London trip, shortly after Plecas became speaker in late 2017, James arranged a flight to Edinburgh and a car and driver to tour St. Andrews and visit its famous golf course. Highlights were shopping at the Scottish Parliament and St. Andrews gift shops, for which Plecas tracked and recorded items expensed to B.C. taxpayers.

The disclosure that gained the most media attention was the purchase of a high-end wood splitter and utility trailer costing more than $13,000, supposedly as part of the legislature’s emergency preparedness project. The RCMP later seized the splitter from James’ home, and the trailer showed up soon after in a legislature parking lot. Police and two special prosecutors are now examining this whole mess.

RELATED NEWS: Why would the B.C. legislature need a firewood splitter?

It gets worse. The report details James asking Plecas to sign a paper authorizing a “retirement allowance” of up to $300,000. Plecas writes that he was told by the deputy clerk that James had already received a similar benefit of $257,000 in 2012, with no indication he was actually retiring from a job that pays substantially more than that of premier. Plecas signed it and later rescinded it, to secure the paper trail.

I’ll refrain from detailing other issues, including altered invoices and allegations of a truckload of liquor being hauled away after a reception. Those will be of particular interest to police and prosecutors.

Another event of 2012 was the start of receipt disclosure by MLAs, after many years of questionable travel, constituency expenses and other claims. That came about after former B.C. auditor general John Doyle revealed that MLA credit card bills were being paid without any effective oversight.

That overdue change left the all-powerful speaker and legislature officers exempt. It’s a mistake now regretted by many, including Premier John Horgan, who served on the legislature’s management committee at the time.

We’ll be hearing a lot more in the days ahead about some of James’ travel expenses, notably a June 20, 2018 trip to Vancouver to meet with former B.C. Liberal attorney general Geoff Plant and Paul Barbeau, another lawyer who is B.C. Liberal Party president.

There were other meetings with top B.C. Liberals, including with former premier Christy Clark. We know about them now because James charged them all up as business travel expenses for the strictly non-partisan office of Clerk of the House.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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