British Columbia

Alarm over B.C. Legislature spending was sounded more than a decade ago

The bombshell report by Darryl Plecas is not the first time we have heard about questionable spending at the B.C. Legislature.

Former auditor general says 2007 audit recommendations should have been implemented

From left, Speaker Darryl Plecas, Clerk Craig James, and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz. (Gregor Craigie/CBC)

The bombshell report by Darryl Plecas is not the first time we have heard allegations of questionable spending at the B.C. Legislature.

On Monday, he released a report outlining thousands of dollars in dubious expenses he says were charged to the legislature including limos, high end suits and accessories and luxury travel and accommodation.

Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk of the House Craig James have not been charged with any crime and have denied all wrongdoing. They said they read the allegations against them for the first time in Plecas's report.

None of this has been proven and there are no criminal charges. Two special prosecutors are looking at the allegations, along with the RCMP.

In 2007, then Auditor General Arn van Iersel highlighted problems with an audit. He prepared a scathing report about the legislature's bookkeeping that was later released by his successor, John Doyle.

Doyle said at the time it was almost impossible to tell if there was money missing and was critical of the absence of an annual report.

Five years later, he gave a failing grade to the provincial legislature's management of its then $63 million-a-year budget. It is now $80 million.

"The numbers did not make sense and were not supported by the evidence. So, this isn't some esoteric discussion about accounting rules. This is basic bread and butter. Not good," Doyle said.

History repeats itself

He said in the previous three years the Speaker's office had not produced financial statements, did not demand receipts for MLAs expense accounts and did not properly reconcile its bank balances.

Doyle said at the time most of this could have been avoided if the Speaker's office had implemented his recommendations about accounting from the 2007 audit.

House Speaker Darryl Plecas arrives at the Legislative Assembly Management Committee meeting in the Douglas Fir room at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

The Speaker at the time was BC Liberal Bill Barisoff, who left office in 2013 after eight years on the job.

The new Speaker, Linda Reid, was called on the carpet in 2014 for spending to refurbish her office. Reid racked up $120,000 in expenses and renovations, including a $48,000 upgrade to the Speaker's desk with a new touch screen computer.

She was also forced to repay a business class ticket to South Africa that she had expensed for her husband to accompany her to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference.

Her successor was Steve Thomson who was in the job less than a year, as the Liberals failed to form government.

See how the scandal unfolded over the past two months:

Watch the timeline of events from when the scandal was first brought to public attention until the scathing 76-page report was released. 3:49

'Incredibly outrageous'

Dermod Travis executive director of Integrity B.C. said it's disappointing to know this could have been stopped long ago.

"It's incredibly outrageous at a number of levels ... it's the responsibility not just of elected officials but also senior staff to make certain that a tax dollar is well spent."

Dermod Travis executive director of Integrity B.C. said it's disappointing that this could have been stopped long ago. (CBC)

Darryl Plecas took the job as speaker when the NDP formed government which got him kicked out of the Liberal party.

He had been on the job less than 18 months when he moved to have the Sergeant at Arms and Clerk of the House put on administrative leave. Lenz and James said in a statement released Monday that they expect to be exonerated in due course.

Now he's being hailed as a whistle-blower.  

Travis says Plecas is owed an apology by many.

"He did his job. He was the only one frankly who stood up to do that job."

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that Auditor General John Doyle prepared a scathing report into legislature bookkeeping in 2007. In fact, it was Auditor General Arn van Iersel who compiled the report, which was later released by his successor, John Doyle.
    Jan 28, 2019 1:14 PM PT

About the Author

Joan Marshall

Joan Marshall is a senior producer for CBC News, based in Vancouver