British Columbia

Wood-splitter redux: 'Weaknesses and gaps' found in examination of legislative spending scandal

The report from B.C.'s attorney general points to poor or non-existent policies in the alleged financial misconduct of former clerk Craig James and former sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.

Auditor general highlights poor or non-existent policies in report into spending scandal

From left, Speaker Darryl Plecas, former clerk Craig James, and former sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz. (Gregor Craigie/CBC)

The provincial  auditor general says weaknesses and gaps in B.C's Legislative Assembly policy are responsible for some of the questionable spending by former clerk Craig James and former sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz — including the now infamous wood-splitter.

In her 33 page report, Carole Bellringer paints a picture of an institution where a shocking lack of rules and oversight allow for abuses that cost the taxpayer. 

"We found that travel expenses were frequently made without clear documentation to support the purpose of travel, some expenses were made without appropriate approval, and purchases of items such as clothing and gifts were made without a policy to guide those transactions," said Bellringer. 

Her report makes nine recommendations around financial accountability, many of which read like an accounting 101 textbook. 

Bellringer was asked to look into Legislative Assembly finance policies after allegations of misconduct were levelled against James and Lenz in an explosive report from Speaker Darryl Plecas back in January.

Plecas alleged the two men had spent lavishly on travel and had claimed reimbursements for things that had no relation to their jobs, including suits, luggage, gifts, and a wood-splitter.

Travel expense follies

Bellringer's report cites the lack of a comprehensive travel policy and a bevy of problems with the way travel was handled, including expense claims by James and Lenz where it wasn't clear what business was being conducted and whether it was for Legislative Assembly purposes.

The report also mentions a trip to England where James and Lenz spent $1,915 for a chauffeured vehicle as one of many examples where "it was difficult to determine if the most appropriate and economical travel choices were made ..."

According to the report, James was in the practice of approving his own travel expenses, approving $56,641 for trips he took between April 2016 and December 2018.

Not surprisingly, Bellringer recommends "the Legislative Assembly ensure that the expense authority is not the receiver of the goods or services."

The report also shows that travel expenses for the Office of the Speaker tripled from approximately $20,000 per year in 2017/18 to $60,000 per year in 2018/19, when Plecas became speaker.  

When asked about the expenses, Plecas declined to comment, saying he would address the question Friday.

Purchasing card problems 

Bellringer also found a slew of problems with the way purchasing cards are used in the Legislative Assembly.

One example describes how James put over 200 transactions — mostly subscriptions — on his assistant's purchasing card. He then approved the expenses in his role as supervisor. 

The report recommends "that the Legislative Assembly review its purchasing card policy and ensure practices comply with that policy."

Read the auditor general's report

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