The office of the Speaker of the B.C. legislature is convinced recent disagreements between Speaker Darryl Plecas and Auditor General Carol Bellringer has nothing to do with Bellringer’s resignation.
Bellringer resigned Wednesday, 18 months before her term is up and just five days after her report into the legislature spending scandal was criticized.
“On behalf of all member of the Legislative Assembly I wish to express appreciation to Ms. Bellringer for what she has accomplished in her tenure as an officer of the legislature,” Plecas said in a statement.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Plecas’ chief of staff Alan Mullen said he wanted to clear up any misconception that Plecas’ criticism led to Bellringer’s resignation.
She will remain on the job to assist with transition until December 31.
“The information Ms. Bellringer provided was the same that she provided to the media,” Mullen said.
“The only thing that needs to be focused on is what Ms. Bellringer said. She is resigning due to personal reasons and I think it would be disrespectful for us to speculate if that is the case or not. I highly doubt she is going to lose sleep because one person disagreed with her audit.”
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Bellringer released an audit last week finding “weaknesses and gaps” in how expenses are dealt with for the offices of the Speaker, clerk and sergeant-at-arms at the legislature.
Bellringer found some policies were in place, but they were not always followed. But the Auditor General says there was nothing more that needed investigating and what happened at the legislature was not considered fraud.
“We found that there was no specific travel policy for staff and officers of the Legislative Assembly,” Bellringer said. “The practices we observed in this area would not have been allowed in ministries.”
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The audit was triggered by the Plecas Report, which found numerous cases of misspending at the legislature. The RCMP are still investigating.
Clerk Craig James retired after an independent investigation by former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlin found he committed administrative misconduct related to misspending at the legislature.
Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz was cleared of wrongdoing by McLachlin but is still on administrative leave. The RCMP are investigating allegations against Lenz and there is also a separate Police Act investigation.
Plecas was highly critical of Bellringer’s audit, questioning why she had not conducted a forensic audit.
Mullen reiterated on Thursday the hope for a deeper look into the legislature’s financials.
“A forensic audit would dive deeper, a forensic audit would not just look at surface information,” Mullen said.
“It is pretty clear and evident that there is more to this story. There is more information we need to get. It’s not s disappointment that you disagree with me. It’s Speaker Plecas is disappointed that you did not find what I would certainty describe as low hanging fruit.”
Mullen says the low hanging fruit includes allegations in Plecas’ report of James and Lenz not declaring duty on items purchased during international travel.
But Bellringer said a forensic audit was the wrong approach.
“It is important to note that this audit would not be considered a forensic audit, although that description has frequently been reported in the media,” Bellringer wrote.
“Forensic audits are generally performed by specialists in support of civil or criminal court proceedings.”
Plecas originally questioned whether Bellringer was the right person to conduct the audit. The Speaker asked for someone outside the province to review the books and the all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee agreed to go that way.
But that changed after Bellringer said she was unhappy that MLAs were set to hire an auditor from outside the province.
Mullen would not say definitively if the office will ask the Legislative Assembly Management Committee for an outside auditor but also didn’t close the door to the option.
“We questioned, we didn’t demand, that maybe it was a good idea to get a fresh set of eyes on this,” Mullen said.
“We were interested in doing that and obviously we are still interested in doing that.”