British Columbia

Public trust might be biggest casualty of B.C. Legislature spending claims

The damning report that reveals a spending scandal at the B.C. Legislature has turned political, with all sides in Victoria now blaming each other. But what do this week's revelations do for public confidence in provincial politics?

Political observers predict greater voter apathy as Plecas report taints views of government

The damning Plecas report alleging inappropriate spending of taxpayer dollars has shaken public confidence. (CBC)

British Columbians have had several days to digest all 76 pages of the jaw-dropping report by Speaker Darryl Plecas.

It alleges case after case of questionable spending and cracks open the door to reveal a wider culture of entitlement at the B.C. Legislature.

Neither of the men at the centre of the report's claims — Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz — has been charged with any crime, and both have denied any wrongdoing.

But the fallout from the report runs deep, the implications wide.

Arguably most at stake is the public's trust in our provincial government.

A sampling of voices on the streets of Vancouver echoes widespread skepticism still resonating from this week's revelations.

"It makes me not trust them. I'm skeptical. How are they using our money?" asks one person.

"There's overspending in a lot of places and not a lot of checks and balances, so it's to be expected," said another.

"Who has trust in the government, anyway?" quips a third.

Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz (left) and Clerk of the House Craig James have both denied any wrongdoing. (Ben Nelms/Canadian Press)

Fostering voter apathy

It's that type of cynicism that worries UBC political scientist Gerald Baier. 

This week's bombshell isn't expected to change who people vote for; but rather, whether people vote at all, he said.

"This might be a case where it turns some people off to think that, 'Oh all these guys are crooks, they're all the same," he said.

"So the more we talk about it, the more outrageous it seems, and the more that attitude gets entrenched in the public's mind."

See how the explosive events unfolded over two months:

How the B.C. Legislature spending scandal unfolded

4 years ago
Duration 3:50
Watch the timeline of events from when the scandal was first brought to public attention until the scathing 76-page report was released.

An important distinction to note is that James and Lenz are not politicians. They are in fact senior staff who are appointed, not elected.

But it's a distinction that may be lost on many, said Baier.

"This time it is senior management of the assembly, the people who are more permanent in some ways. But at the same time, it's just casting it all with a bad brush," Baier said.

Demanding accountability

Whether they're politician or not, any official working behind the walls of the legislature needs to be held to a higher standard, government watchdogs say.

"It's the responsibility, not just of elected officials, but also senior staff to respect that environment and to make certain that when they spend a tax dollar it's well spent," said Dermod Travis of Intergrity B.C.

As B.C. awaits the results of a forensic audit and an RCMP investigation, Travis is calling for greater transparency — now.

"The Legislative Assembly Management Committee should put deadlines on their work so that the public knows that we will not go into another election with these policies in place," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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