British Columbia

B.C. Speaker releases 2nd report into officials' alleged 'flagrant' overspending in legislature

The Speaker of British Columbia's legislature has issued a rebuttal of the explanation provided by Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz to his original report into the alleged misuse of taxpayer money by the two men.

Darryl Plecas says he will recuse himself from the investigation

Darryl Plecas responds to reporter questions on Thursday Feb, 21, 2019 in the B.C. Legislature after issuing another report about questionable spending from Craig James and Gary Lenz. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The Speaker of British Columbia's legislature has issued a rebuttal of the explanation provided by Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz to his original report into the alleged misuse of taxpayer money by the two men.

Darryl Plecas provided the second report on the parliamentary spending scandal to the legislative assembly management committee (LAMC) Thursday afternoon.

It refutes much of James and Lenz's reasoning for spending on overseas trips and personal expenses billed to taxpayers such as gifts, clothing, headphones and luggage. It also presents some new spending Plecas describes as extravagant and not necessary.

'Dramatic failure of judgment'

Overall, Plecas says his motivation behind the reports is to deal with what he sees as misconduct by the two officers and improve "practices and protections," in the legislature.

"On an individual level, it represents, at best, a dramatic failure of judgment and leadership by those officers, and at worst, a pattern of deliberate improper use of public resources for their own benefit," he wrote about expenses claimed by the two men.

For example, Plecas details luggage purchases made and claimed by James between April 2017 and November 2018. They include a $432 backpack, a $645 piece of carry-on luggage and two other luggage purchases worth around $1,000.

Plecas wrote that he can't understand who anyone could make such purchases with taxpayer money.

"You can buy perfectly good luggage for $150 from the Bay in Victoria," he wrote. "No one who respects taxpayer money would purchase a $645 piece of carry-on luggage in an overseas airport boutique, whatever the purpose."

Media wait in a hallway during a lengthy Legislative Assembly Management Committee meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Tany Fletcher/CBC)

On Jan. 21, Plecas released a 76-page report alleging the pair fraudulently and flagrantly overspent on items such as expensive clothing, magazine subscriptions and a $3,200 wood-splitter.

Following the original report, which was described by the Speaker's special adviser, Alan Mullen, as the 'tip of the iceberg' regarding abuses, both James and Lenz made a detailed defence of their actions.

Legitimate and reasonable

James, in a  24-page response, said the Plecas report went out if its way to smear his character.

He said the report was not only inaccurate but illogical and he could not fathom why the Speaker would have approved his expenses if he harboured concerns about them.

Plecas said in his latest report that he signed off on some things because he trusted James when he was told that some practices had always been done.

'Not a game'

"Senior executives depend on forthright advice from senior managers about matters put forward for approval — it is not a game of 'catch me if you can,'" he wrote.

Lenz, in a longer, 62-page statement, echoed the sentiment, adding he would be willing to return to his job and work with the Speaker.

He claimed the expenses he charged were legitimate and reasonable and that every trip he took was for important business purposes.

'Dignity and reputation of the Legislative Assembly'

The new report scathingly slams the reasoning for the spending from both men and presents new questionable expenses, such as a whale watching trip to Washington state under the guise of an earthquake preparedness event and more than $1,000 US for Seattle Mariners baseball tickets.

On travel, Plecas described the trips as repetitive. He said James and Lenz often saw the same people and discussed the same topics several times a year in different locations around the world.

"What this behaviour invites is a conclusion that many of these trips are no more than useful justifications for reciprocal international visits, substantially underwritten by the public," he said.

Both James and Lenz have been on paid administrative leave since being suspended on Nov. 20, 2018.

Darryl Plecas arrives with his special adviser, Alan Mullen, at a legislative assembly management committee meeting on Feb. 21, 2019. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The committee agreed to release the report publicy, keep James and Lenz suspended and on paid leave and have an independent review of the allegations performed by a retired B.C. Supreme Court justice.

Plecas said he would now recuse himself from the proceedings.

The RCMP is investigating the allegations against James and Lenz. Two special prosecutors have been appointed to assist in the case.

Plecas says he expects more questionable spending to come to light through this as his investigations only looked at specific events and years such as travel in 2017-2018.

With files from Tanya Fletcher

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