February 22, 2019 12:15 am
Updated: February 22, 2019 2:19 am

B.C. legislature set to launch internal probe into allegations brought forward by Speaker

WATCH: Just as Speaker Darryl Plecas was about to address a legislature committee about the spending scandal that led to the suspension of two top officials, there was an unexpected appearance. Richard Zussman reports.

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The Legislative Assembly Management Committee has agreed to hire a retired judge to probe more allegations against B.C. legislature clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.

The internal probe will look into the allegations put forward in a pair of reports from Speaker Darryl Plecas as well as the defence brought forward by James and Lenz.

“We are going to meet as quickly as possible and we would like to get this done as quickly as possible,” house leader Mike Farnworth said. “It will deal with issues raised in the reports.”

WATCH: Keith Baldrey breaks down the allegations in Speaker Darryl Plecas’ second report


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As part of the internal report, Plecas will recuse himself from the meetings. The Speaker has produced a third report that seems to be on hold due to the new internal probe.

“We have reached a place in all of this where so much of the information was presented by myself. I think most people would say I should step back and say it should be someone other than me that should make comment,” Plecas said.

READ MORE: Embattled legislature staffers respond to Plecas report, maintain innocence

Lenz and James have denied all wrongdoing. They have been on administrative leave with pay for 93 days. James makes $347,090 a year and has been paid $88,436 before tax, which works out to $951 per day. Lenz is paid $218,167 a year and has been paid $55,587 before tax, which is $598 per day.

Farnworth says the upcoming investigation will provide the information needed by the legislature to determine whether the pair should remain on paid administrative leave, be moved to leave without pay, be terminated or be given their jobs back.

“When we get the response back from the eminent jurist, we will be in a position to bring the information we receive to the house, and that point would be the ability for the house to make a proper determination of any change,” Farnworth said.

READ MORE: Clerk and sergeant-at-arms defend themselves against allegations in leaked documents

Plecas released a second report on Thursday. The report came in response to James and Lenz defending themselves. The Speaker said he doesn’t need another investigation to convince him that the pair should never return to the legislature.

“I have said very early on that I believe the two people that are under investigation shouldn’t be here,” Plecas said. “I don’t think I could make that any clearer.”

“It has to be a decision for (the Legislative Assembly Management Committee). The one thing that complicates this are matters of labour law. We are not in a place right now to make some very difficult decisions.”

WATCH: Jan. 22 — Fallout from 2 top BC legislature officials accused of flagrant and improper personal expense and travel claims

Craig James’ lawyer Mark Andrews attended the LAMC meeting on Thursday. He was also given the authority to speak on behalf of Lenz.

Andrews asked the committee to consider holding off on releasing Plecas’ rebuttal until after James and Lenz could read it. The committee did not heed his request.

“I want to make clear to the committee they should not be publishing further reports from the speaker which have not been provided to Mr. James or Mr. Lenz. Despite request and to which they have had not opportunity to comment,” Andrews said.

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

There is also an ongoing RCMP investigation into the allegations, and two special prosecutors are involved. B.C. auditor general Carol Bellringer has been tasked with conducting an internal audit as well.

As for Plecas’ response, it contains a number of new allegations. Plecas alleged that a trip to Washington state billed as an opportunity to learn more about “earthquake preparedness” was actually a trip to a Seattle Mariners baseball game, a whale-watching excursion and a number of expensive meals.

Plecas says James labelled the baseball game in the itinerary as “Safe passages: Large-Scale Evacuations” and that the 13 tickets cost taxpayers US$1,073.32.

WATCH: Clerk and sergeant-at-arms of the B.C. legislature respond to Plecas report

According to the information brought forward by Plecas, staff attended the game as well as dinners organized by James and Lenz.

“They, along with Mrs. James and Mrs. Lenz, apparently attended at least some of the three ‘working dinners’ referred to in the agenda, which I have confirmed cost the taxpayer a total of $3,601.01,” Plecas writes.

The Washington trip also included a whale-watching expedition, according to Plecas, as a receipt allegedly showed that a staffer in the sergeant-at-arms’ office booked Victoria Ocean Magic II Whale Watching Adventures for Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, at 3:30 p.m., for eight people at a cost of $1,024.

James and Lenz have not been given a chance to respond to the allegations.

The new Plecas report also detailed more lavish spending, including additional pieces of luggage that were advertised as shared luggage for MLAs.

“For the limited period of my review of expenses (April 2017-November 2018), it was not just the laptop backpack ($432.80) and the $645.00 carry-on piece of luggage ($645.04) purchased in Hong Kong; luggage was also purchased in Heathrow ($743.92) and in Edinburgh ($253.61) and expensed to taxpayers,” Plecas wrote. “No MLA that I have talked to was aware of any policy whereby the clerk’s office was maintaining a set of ‘loaner luggage.'”

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