British Columbia·CBC Explains

Investigations, reports, resignations: What's left in the B.C. Legislature spending scandal?

Since the saga first shook the B.C. Legislature, two independent investigations and an audit have been done. A separate workplace review and an RCMP investigation are still underway. And the two men at the centre of it all have resigned. CBC explains how we got here and what's still to come.

Nearly a year later, many questions remain about what happened and what's to come

From left to right: Speaker Darryl Plecas, Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz in happier times. The latter two have since resigned in the wake of Plecas's allegations of questionable spending leveled against them. (Gregor Craigie/CBC)

A jaw-dropping saga first shook the B.C. Legislature almost a year ago and its reverberations are still being felt. 

Two senior officials — Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz — were marched out of the building and suspended in November 2018 over allegations of misspending. 

The accusations were laid out in a pair of lengthy reports by Speaker Darryl Plecas. Since then, two independent investigations and an audit have been completed. A separate workplace review and an RCMP investigation are still underway. And the two men at the centre of it all have resigned.

CBC explains how we got here and what's still to come.

Who is involved?

Speaker Darryl Plecas first noted suspicions of questionable spending by James and Lenz in January 2018. ​​​

Plecas launched his own months-long, secret investigation with the help of his chief of staff Alan Mullen. They ultimately accused the two senior staffers of spending taxpayer dollars on lavish vacations, inappropriate personal purchases and padded retirement benefits.

The accusations set in motion a series of investigations: one by former supreme court chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, one by former Vancouver Police deputy chief Doug LePard, and an ongoing RCMP investigation. 

Why so many reports?

Plecas initially outlined his concerns, in detail, in a pair of reports that went to the Legislative Management Assembly Committee (LAMC) in January 2019. 

LAMC tasked McLachlin with a fact-finding mission into possible misconduct. Her investigation cost taxpayers $219,479.

Unsatisfied with the scope of her probe, Plecas commissioned LePard to investigate the specific actions of Lenz under the Police Act. 

B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer was also asked to do a forensic audit. She announced her retirement days after turning in her report, which was not a full forensic audit, in September 2019.

What's left to be done?

An RCMP investigation continues with the assistance of two special prosecutors that could lead to criminal charges. It's unclear when that will be completed.

MLAs ordered a separate workplace review looking into HR practices. It's also unclear when that will be completed.

A special committee is expected to appoint a permanent clerk in May to replace James. LAMC has not yet started the process to replace Lenz as sergeant-at-arms.

Will James or Lenz have to repay anything?

Not likely.

James agreed to a "non-financial settlement" with the Legislative Assembly immediately after McLachlin's report. Lenz resigned days before LePard's report was released after he'd seen a copy of the findings.

Under employment law, there's no way to recover any salary, vacation or other benefits the two received while they were placed on paid administrative leave.

Neither has been charged with a crime and both have denied wrongdoing all along.

What has changed since?

Bellringer's audit concluded with nine recommendations to improve oversight policies. The Legislative Assembly confirms it is in the process of adopting all of them to varying degrees.

A set of recommendations is also expected to come from the external workplace review. In July, LAMC announced it was looking for a contractor to oversee that review.

What happens to that wood-splitter?

A $3,200 wood-splitter and $10,000 trailer to haul it were purchased with taxpayer money "in case of an emergency" at the legislature, according to the reports.

It's believed James used the wood-splitter for personal reasons and stored it at his house. It remains an asset of the Legislative Assembly and will be stored on the legislature property. 

A wood splitter, retrieved from suspended clerk Craig James's home by RCMP, is shown at the legislature in Victoria in January 2019. (Dirk Meissner/Canadian Press)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Provincial Affairs Reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca

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