British Columbia

After Plecas' explosive report, B.C. politicians wonder what took so long

Less than 24 hours after a bombshell report accusing two top House officials of outrageous, inappropriate spending, B.C. politicians say they're pleased to finally have some information on the allegations — but some are asking why it took so long.

House speaker's report says he had concerns in the fall of 2017

House Speaker Darryl Plecas leaves his office as journalists try to ask him questions at the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Nov. 22, 2018. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Less than 24 hours after a bombshell report accusing two top House officials of outrageous, inappropriate spending, B.C. politicians say they're pleased to finally have some information on the allegations — but some are asking why it took so long.

House Speaker Darryl Plecas released dozens of pages of explosive allegations against Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-At-Arms Gary Lenz on Monday, two months after the pair was placed on indefinite leave with pay pending a criminal investigation.

At the time, the House knew nothing about any of the accusations against James and Lenz. They just knew RCMP were on the case.

"We had virtually nothing," Opposition House Leader Mary Polak said Tuesday.

Clerk of the House Craig James, centre, is escorted out of the legislature after he and B.C. Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were placed on leave. Alan Mullen, special adviser to House Speaker Darryl Plecas, walks alongside James at right. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Plecas didn't provide an explanation until he released his 76-page report, chock full of allegations that James and Lenz were blatantly overspending, filing questionable expenses and taking inappropriate cash payouts "totalling in the millions of dollars."

James and Lenz complained they also didn't know details of the accusations until Monday's report and, in a written statement, questioned why they weren't given the opportunity to respond to them before they were made public.

Neither man has been charged with any crime, and both have denied any wrongdoing.

'Culture of fear'

In the report, Plecas said he learned of a "number" of the allegations against James and Lenz in the weeks after he became speaker on Sept. 8, 2017. 

He hired an old friend, Alan Mullen, as his special adviser and asked him to look into it in January 2018. The pair took their findings to RCMP seven months later, on Sept. 27, 2018.

Polak said Plecas should've raised red flags with the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC), which oversees expenses at the legislature, far sooner.

See how the explosive events unfolded over 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

"[Plecas] should've been raising those things immediately," Polak said. "For the last many, many months, [the committee] has been discussing the matters he's concerned about — the committee has been discussing changes, mainly to expense payments and respectful workplace policy.

"These matters have been alive, [Plecas has] been there for those conversations and, inexplicably, he went on ... it's only just now, after pushing and pushing, that we're finally seeing some light on this."

Opposition House Leader Mary Polak after the Legislative Assembly Management Committee meeting on Jan. 22, 2019. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Allegations point to lack of oversight

Attorney General David Eby said he'd read the report Tuesday and agreed the allegations were "disturbing."

"[It] raises concerns about the lack of control in the assembly and the lack of oversight," adding that he's cautioned his colleagues not to speculate so as to protect the the integrity of the police investigation.

Plecas's report also said he's heard from former employees who said they were terminated from their posts at the legislature, seemingly without cause.

Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz (L) and Clerk of the Legislative Assembly Craig James make a statement to media in Vancouver on Nov. 26, 2018. (Ben Nelms/Canadian Press)

The Speaker called it potentially "retributive or otherwise unjustified" firings for employees who sounded alarm bells about James and Lenz.

"It appears that this practice of sudden without-cause terminations has fostered a culture of insecurity among staff in at least some of the departments at the legislative assembly that if employees spoke up about concerns or fell out of favour they could lose their jobs without warning," the report read.

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver called that a "culture of fear" that would've kept a lid on any suspicion.

"We have reported instances of people having their contracts terminated for trying to raise concerns about these practices ... The culture that, at best, turned a blind eye and, at worst, actively concealed these actions," Weaver said.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver responds to the bombshell report claiming fraudulent overspending by two legislature officials. 1:14

Speaking 'truth to power'

The party leader did praise Plecas for eventually releasing his report.

"As the first truly independent speaker, he has shown a willingness to speak truth to power," Weaver said.

James and Lenz were suspended on Nov. 20, after the House voted unanimously to put them on leave after Plecas' put forward a motion.

After that, the Speaker said, the challenge was choosing what to disclose without threatening the RCMP's work.

House Speaker Darryl Plecas and special adviser Alan Mullen walk into the Office of the Speaker at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on Nov. 22, 2018. (Tanya Fletcher/CBC)

One of Plecas' special advisers, Wally Oppal, said the Speaker released information as quickly as he could.

"There was a very thin line we had to go through. Do we release any of this information to the public and thereby jeopardize a police investigation? Or do we satisfy what the public wants to know?" Oppal said early Tuesday.

"At the end of the day, a comprehensive report was prepared, similar to what he'd given to police early on in the fall."

The LAMC voted to release the report Monday and agreed to launch an audit of legislature finances, conduct a workplace review and submit that report to an auditor from outside B.C.

The RCMP's investigation is ongoing. Two special prosecutors have been appointed to the case.

Read Plecas' full report below:

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With files from CBC's The Early Edition