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Speaker’s office to ‘move heaven and earth’ to rescind non-disclosure agreements for political staff

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It may not be in his jurisdiction but Speaker Darryl Plecas is looking at doing everything possible to allow political staff to feel comfortable to speak with him about concerns of inappropriate spending with the legislature.

Plecas’ special advisor Alan Mullen says his office is in the process of creating an environment where workers can come forward. This could include rescinding non-disclosure agreements staff have signed.

READ MORE: Speaker Darryl Plecas accuses senior staff of ‘overspending,’ stealing alcohol and ‘unjustified terminations’

“What doesn’t fall under the Speaker’s jurisdiction would be political staffers, ministerial assistants, legislative assistants, former, current,” Mullen said.

“We have had former political staffers come former as well requesting that maybe their non-disclosure agreements could be rescinded. We will move heaven and earth to assist in this process.”

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“It is the Speaker’s view that anyone that wants to come forward to have a conversation of about alleged wrongdoing, we are on the side of we want to listen.”

Mullen isn’t clear on how many political staff have signed these documents preventing them from speaking about what they have seen in the workplace. Most political staff are not required to sign non-disclosures because of public accountability rules that are in place.

The Plecas Report details the story of Connor Gibson, a former Liberal staffer turned whistleblower, who raised concerns with Mullen over his time working with MLA Linda Reid.

READ MORE: Whistleblower alleges legislature expense issues beyond clerk and sergeant-at-arms

Mullen says it is a little early to get into the details of how the Speaker’s office would be able to do this because it lacks jurisdiction.

One of the possibilities Mullen alluded to is having conversations with the people who do have jurisdiction over the workers.

The Speaker’s office has also promised to rip up the non-disclosure agreements signed by former B.C. Legislative staff.

Plecas’ report into alleged misspending at the B.C. Legislature by clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz points out issues with legislature staff. Plecas alleges in the report that 16 employees were fired from the legislature for raising questions about James’ and Lenz’s actions. Mullen says as many as 20 employees have not come forward with allegations of improper workplace treatment.

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“There is a lot of fear as well. These folks allege that they were terminated for asking questions. They have indicated that they have signed non-disclosure agreements and they are very fearful to bring forward what they say because of those non-disclosures.”

NDP MLA Selina Robinson says that “people want the truth” and they “want to know what was going on.”

“Whatever it takes to get there is what we ought to be looking at,” Robinson said. “I would hope that those that have the ability to speak the truth would come forward.”

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The Plecas Report also details a number of meetings between James and high profile B.C. Liberals. One of the meetings is with Paul Barbeau, a longtime friend of Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson and the current president of the B.C. Liberal Party.

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Robinson says it is concerning that a non-partisan officer of the legislature would be meeting with high ranking party officials.

In a statement, Barbeau says the meetings had nothing to do with politics.

“My only contact with Craig James was to discuss reproductions of coastal B.C. paintings to be hung in the B.C. legislature,” Barbeau said. “I represent the heirs of the artist, and they ultimately agreed that digital rights to some reproductions of paintings could be provided to the legislature at no charge.”

READ MORE: Speaker’s office ‘did our homework’ on legislature investigation says special advisor Alan Mullen

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has been looking closely at the receipts included in the Plecas Report.

B.C. Director Kris Sims says one of the discrepancies is found on a receipt, dated June 17, 2018, showing a purchase for $714.55 (CDN) with a handwritten note stating “luggage.” However, the product number shows the item to be a Maverick Large Black Edition Victorinox watch.

“It’s hard to imagine a justification for spending taxpayers’ money on luggage, but it’s even more baffling to see a receipt that describes an expensive watch as ‘luggage,’” Sims said. “Now that we’ve looked at the actual receipts, we have even more questions about taxpayers being stuck with bills for everything from high-end headphones to… chauffeur services.”

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The allegations in the report have not been proven and both James and Lenz deny wrongdoing. They are expected to file a document to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee providing their response to the report by Friday.

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