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

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Occupancy rates remain above capacity in Greater Victoria hospitals

Region’s hospitals have more patients than acute care beds

Saanich mayor signs up for mason bee rental service

Fred Haynes rents mason bee colony from Oyster River beekeeper for his Prospect Lake home

VIDEO: Rare ‘ice circle’ spotted on Kamloops river

An ice circle or ice pan, has formed in the chilly waters just east of the Yellowhead Bridge

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 21

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Uber, Lyft approved for ride-hailing in Lower Mainland

Kater Technologies Inc.’s application was rejected

Investigators in wildfire-torn Australia head to site of B.C. airtanker crash

The B.C. government sends condolences to Port Alberni-owned Coulson Aviation

Former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse in B.C. granted day parole

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s

VIDEO: Person in wheelchair narrowly avoids collision with car in Kelowna

There were no injuries in the scary looking near-accident last week in Rutland

Here’s what Canada is doing to stop the coronavirus from getting in

Health officials are monitoring multiple possible cases in Canada

B.C. still struggling to control non-resident medical care fraud

Unpaid bills, out-of-province claimants a costly legacy of MSP

Most Read