British Columbia

Wally Oppal defends House Speaker, saying he was acting on 'advice'

Former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal is defending the Speaker of the legislature, saying Darryl Plecas was acting on advice in a scandal that has seen two top officials placed on administrative leave amid an RCMP investigation.

Former B.C. attorney general now 2nd special adviser to Darryl Plecas after Sergeant-at-Arms, Clerk suspended

Wally Oppal, a former attorney general and retired judge, has been appointed to work with House Speaker Darryl Plecas as a second special adviser — an appointment made after the official Opposition raised doubts about Plecas' first adviser. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal is defending the Speaker of the legislature, saying Darryl Plecas was acting on advice in a scandal that has seen two top officials placed on administrative leave amid an RCMP investigation.

Oppal made the comments after what he calls a "productive" meeting with Plecas and his special adviser Alan Mullen at the legislature on Friday.

He said Plecas has been scrutinized unfairly in the days since Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk of the House Craig James were suspended and escorted from the house.

"[Plecas] is a well-spoken intelligent person with a great academic background and he didn't do anything in a capricious way," Oppal said.

'He's an honorable person': Wally Oppal defends Speaker after private meeting

3 years ago
The recently appointed second adviser to the House Speaker talks about Darryl Plecas' decision not to release a public statement. 0:57

The former attorney general was appointed as a second adviser to Plecas on Thursday, to give advice on what he calls legal matters.

Oppal says he can't comment on the specifics of the criminal investigation, which has seen the appointment of two special prosecutors but no details offered to the public.

"I can't possibly compromise the investigation," he said.

Few details in ongoing scandal

Plecas has been in the hot seat since the official Opposition revealed he asked Mullen — a longtime friend — to work as his special adviser in January, in part because he had concerns about Lenz and James.

Mullen investigated the men for seven months before reporting his findings to RCMP, which opened its own investigation. That investigation led to the motion to have Lenz and James suspended on Tuesday.

House Speaker Darryl Plecas and his first special adviser Alan Mullen walk into the Office of the Speaker at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on Thursday. (Tanya Fletcher/CBC)

On Thursday, Opposition House Leader Mary Polak said Plecas had asked for Mullen to replace Lenz while he was on leave — and idea that was quickly shot down.

Since Polak's revelation, Plecas has largely dodged reporters. He scheduled and cancelled a news conference, then promised a statement that never materialized.

'It's not appropriate': Mary Polak describes meeting with speaker earlier this week

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

Oppal said he thought Plecas made "a wise" choice in avoiding the press.

"There's an ongoing criminal investigation, which really is the focus of what we're doing, and this is peripheral stuff involving the Speaker. I can understand the public being concerned about this but time will tell," he said.

Instead, Mullen announced Plecas had requested a second special adviser to help with legal questions, and that Wally Oppal would be stepping into that role.

On Friday, Oppal also spoke highly of the Speaker's character.

"He's an honourable person and whatever he's done and said has been said as a result of advice that he received ...  It is somewhat unfair, in my view, to be cross-examining the Speaker," he said.

Acting officials in place

Current Deputy Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd has been appointed as acting clerk and current Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Randy Ennis as sergeant-at-arms pending the investigation.

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.

Wally Oppal explains why details of legislature investigation aren't public

3 years ago
Oppal, a former B.C. attorney general, says releasing details could endanger the accuseds' right to a fair trial — if criminal charges are ever laid. 0:50

With files from the Canadian Press