British Columbia

Former AG's appointment caps day of confusion at B.C. Legislature

A day of confusion at the B.C. Legislature has concluded with the appointment of former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal as a second special advisor to the speaker following the dismissal of two senior administrators earlier this week.

Former B.C. attorney general's appointment is the latest twist in a confusing situation in Victoria

Former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal has been appointed as a special adviser in the middle of a developing scandal at the B.C. Legislature that already includes two special prosecutors and an RCMP investigation. (CBC)

A day of confusion at the B.C. Legislature has concluded with the appointment of former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal as a second special advisor to the speaker following the dismissal of two senior administrators earlier this week.

Thursday's appointment came after opposition leaders revealed that House Speaker Darryl Plecas had tried to appoint his friend and special adviser Allen Mullen to replace one of those senior officials, who were both escorted out of the legislature earlier this week.

That led to a day filled with more confusion in the legislature's halls as news conferences were scheduled and then cancelled, and written statements were promised and then delayed — all in the midst of a scandal that already includes two special prosecutors and an RCMP investigation.

Mullen announced Thursday afternoon that former judge and attorney general Wally Oppal has been appointed as second special adviser to to the speaker. 0:32

At the root of Thursday's commotion is the investigation into Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk of the House Craig James, who were both put on indefinite leave Tuesday, pending a criminal investigation.

As questions continued to swirl about the allegations against the two men, Opposition House Leader Mary Polak added yet another twist Thursday morning, when she read a sworn statement out loud to reporters. She said Plecas had asked for his special adviser, Allen Mullen, to replace Lenz while he was on leave.

Opposition leaders raise concerns about speaker's plan to appoint friend as sergeant-at-arms. 0:52

That meeting happened Monday — a day before the suspension was handed down. Polak said Plecas's request was rejected almost instantly.

"He expressed the wish and he was immediately cut off and told, 'No,'" Polak said. "It's not appropriate."

Qualifications questioned

Polak said she and B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson have begun to question Mullen's qualifications to be the one investigating — and speaking to — the allegations against Lenz and James.

A short time after Polak's statement, NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth confirmed the meeting with Plecas, and said he had also rejected the request to appoint Mullen as sergeant-at-arms.

Meanwhile, Plecas dodged reporters' questions about what had happened, promising to have more answers at a news conference Thursday afternoon. He later cancelled that event, promising his office would have a written statement addressing the morning's events.

As a crowd of expectant reporters waited at the door to the Speaker's chambers, it was Mullen who finally emerged to read a short statement. He announced that Plecas had requested a second special adviser to help with legal questions, and former judge and attorney general Wally Oppal would be stepping into that role.

Mullen took no questions.

Meanwhile, the legislature adopted a motion Thursday afternoon to appoint current Deputy Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd as acting clerk and current Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Randy Ennis as sergeant-at-arms.

Escorted from the legislature

Police escorted Lenz and James out of the legislature after the house voted unanimously in favour of a motion to suspend them on Tuesday — a situation Premier John Horgan called "shocking."

James and B.C. Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz are the subject of a criminal investigation. 0:59

Officials have been tight lipped about the nature of the investigation surrounding the pair in days since, but a clearer timeline as to what led to their suspensions began to emerge Wednesday.

In a news conference, Mullen said Plecas raised his concerns about Lenz and James and asked him to investigate in January.

"I was brought in for a number of different reasons ... There were just regular concerns about a lot of different things, including this," Mullen said.

Mullen said he gathered information and passed his findings along to RCMP and Victoria police in August. Mounties contacted the B.C. Prosecution Service the following month, the latter said in a statement.  

Opposition House Leader Mary Polak and Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson spoke to reporters at the B.C. legislature Thursday morning. Polak revealed House Speaker Darryl Plecas tried to appoint his friend and special adviser to temporarily replace a senior official in the legislature in a meeting on Monday. (Tanya Fletcher/CBC)

Public 'entitled to know the truth'

On Thursday, Polak said she didn't know Mullen had been investigating James and Lenz for seven months before the house voted on their suspensions.  

She said she barely knew who Mullen was before Tuesday.

"I had bumped into him in the hallway once or twice," she said. "I really did not know much of anything about him or his role."

Wilkinson said he and Polak revealed their information Thursday to ensure the public has the full information about the "concerning" situation.

"The question arises about Alan Mullen's qualifications regarding the handling of this matter," he said, standing alongside Polak. "The public is entitled to know the truth of the events of this week."

Asked if he still has faith in Plecas as speaker, Wilkinson said there might be some thinking to do.

"Well, given the factual disclosures of this week, I think there'll be some consideration of next steps and there'll be, I expect, a gathering of house leaders to consider next steps," he said.

Two special prosecutors have been assigned to the Lenz and James case "to provide legal assistance and advice" to Mounties due to the possible "size and scope" of the investigation.

On Thursday afternoon, Horgan described the case as a "shock to the institution," and said he has no information about the allegations against Lenz and James.

The clerk of the house gives non-partisan advice to the speaker and can be consulted on procedural matters, as well as maintaining a record of all the legislature's proceedings.

The sergeant-at-arms is responsible for maintaining order in the legislative chamber and other areas involved in the business of the house.

Alan Mullen speaks to reporters on Wednesday, one day after two officials from the B.C. legislature were placed on indefinite leave. House Speaker Darryl Plecas brought Mullen on to conduct an internal investigation on the matter in January. (Tanya Fletcher/CBC)

With files from Tanya Fletcher