British Columbia

Suspended B.C. officials deny allegations of overspending

The two top officials in British Columbia's legislature have both denied allegations of overspending in lengthy, written defences, according to a report in a Vancouver newspaper.

Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were suspended in November

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

Two top officials in British Columbia's legislature have both denied allegations of overspending in lengthy, written defences, according to a report in a Vancouver newspaper.

The Vancouver Sun on Friday obtained and published the two suspended officials' written denials to Speaker Darryl Plecas' report, which last month accused both men of flagrant misuse of taxpayers' money.

Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk of the House Craig James say in separate responses that they have done nothing wrong and wish to return to work.

CBC has confirmed through a communications firm representing the men that these were the documents Lenz and James submitted Thursday to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC).

In the Jan. 21, 2019 report from the Speaker, Plecas accused the pair of bold overspending on luxury trips overseas, questionable personal expenses and inappropriate payouts of cash in lieu of vacation "totalling in the millions of dollars.''

But James, in a  24-page response, said the Plecas report goes "out if its way to smear my character."

James says the report by Speaker Darryl Plecas is not only inaccurate but illogical, saying that he cannot fathom why the Speaker would have approved his expenses if he harboured concerns about them.

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.

"I am a professional," Lenz wrote. "I assure you that if I am returned to work, I will do all I can to repair this damage to our reputations."

Lenz says the expenses he has charged are legitimate and reasonable, and that every trip he took was for important business purposes.

Allegations of over-spending

James and Lenz'  were addressing allegations Plecas made in his report, which accused the men of excessive travel costs and shopping, all charged to the taxpayer, including expensive clothing, unnecessary magazine subscriptions, and, in one instance, a $3,200 wood-splitter.

Lenz defended his travel expenses, saying he told the Speaker he actually preferred to travel economy on business trips to save the taxpayer money. But Lenz claimed the Speaker encouraged him to take business class and told him, "I was making him look bad."

As for the notorious $3,200 wood-splitter, James, in his statement, said the equipment was part of the emergency preparedness program at the legislature, noting Victoria is located in an active earthquake zone.

James argued the wood-splitter would have been useful in an emergency to cut beams to rescue injured people and cut and split wood to supply heat and light if there was no power.

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

Plecas says he will provide a detailed reply to both officials' responses at the next committee meeting and declined to comment further on Friday.

With files from The Canadian Press

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