British Columbia’s Opposition Liberals are pushing for an emergency meeting to question Speaker Darryl Plecas about how and why he hired a special adviser to look into his concerns about two top legislature officials.
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Saturday that his caucus still has a lot of questions about the Speaker’s decision to hire his friend Alan Mullen in January to examine the administrative duties of Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk Craig James.
The Speaker’s office forwarded information to the RCMP in August and the Mounties are investigating with the help of two special prosecutors. The legislature, including the Liberal caucus, voted unanimously Tuesday to place Mr. Lenz and Mr. James on administrative leave.
Mr. Wilkinson said he’s asking questions now in part because it came as a surprise to him when Mr. Mullen revealed Wednesday that he was hired to look into matters of concern for Mr. Plecas, including the legislature investigation.
Before Wednesday, the Liberals thought Mr. Mullen was a clerical worker and driver for the Speaker, Mr. Wilkinson said.
“We have a lot of questions, just as the public do, about how Mr. Mullen was hired and why, and the cash flow and compensation involved in all these recruitments that the Speaker’s been engaged in,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
Mr. Plecas said in a statement that the suggestion that Mr. Mullen was hired under a cloud of secrecy is “utter nonsense."
“He was hired with a job description and in consultation with human resource and financial officials at the legislature. I hired him without a competition, but that is consistent with the hiring of virtually every other ministerial aide in Canada,” he said.
“The notion that he was hired as an investigator of any kind is also utter nonsense. The notion that he has engaged in any form of ‘investigation’ beyond doing due diligence on concerns expressed to, or observed by, my office is further nonsense. To do less than due diligence would be wildly irresponsible.”
Mr. Plecas added he was “completely confident that all of this will be abundantly clear to the public once some portion of the police investigation has concluded.”
A lawyer for Mr. Lenz and Mr. James has said the two men deny any wrongdoing and do not know why they have been suspended. Attorney Mark Andrews sent a letter Friday urging the legislature to immediately reinstate the two officials.
The Speaker’s office has agreed to arrange a meeting of the legislative assembly management committee on Tuesday afternoon, but Mr. Wilkinson and Liberal house leader Mary Polak are pushing for a meeting as early as 7 a.m. Monday.
The committee, chaired by the Speaker and made up of the three house leaders and other top legislature members, is responsible for the financial accounting of the legislature.
Mr. Mullen, who met Mr. Plecas while the two worked together at federal prisons in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This week, Mr. Plecas hired former B.C. Liberal and attorney general Wally Oppal as a second special adviser.
Mr. Oppal said Saturday the Speaker obtained “significant” legal advice before taking any of his actions in this matter.
“I’m not going to get involved in the political aspects … but I can tell you that he acted in good faith,” Mr. Oppal said.
Mr. Plecas is a former Liberal member of the legislature who was ejected from the party after he accepted an offer to become Speaker under the NDP and Greens’ power-sharing agreement. The Speaker does not vote on bills, so his decision ensured the two ruling parties had 44 votes and the Liberals had 42.
In the event of a tie, the Speaker casts a vote to break it.
Ms. Polak released a sworn affidavit this week that said Mr. Plecas proposed installing Mr. Mullen as the acting sergeant-at-arms, which she described as “inappropriate.”
Asked whether his questioning of the Speaker was politically motivated, Mr. Wilkinson replied that the people of B.C. are entitled to know the truth about recent events.
“It’s all very murky. People can draw their own conclusions once the truth is known, but right now we have all kinds of missing pieces in this puzzle.”
He insisted he wasn’t able to raise these questions on Monday or Tuesday this week, in response to a question about whether he had neglected to do his job as Opposition leader when the motion to suspend Mr. Lenz and Mr. James came up.
The Liberals received the request for the urgent motion at 8:30 p.m. Monday and it was entered at the end of question period Tuesday, he said.
“There was no time whatsoever to provide for questions about the specifics of the topic,” he said.
Asked whether he regrets voting for the motion, he said the key issue now is whether the government obtained the necessary legal advice before recommending it be approved.
NDP House leader Mike Farnworth did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Farnworth has said previously that the decision to introduce the motion was made by the house leaders for all three parties.
Green spokesperson Jillian Oliver said party House leader Sonia Furstenau will attend the committee meeting on Tuesday.
“Our priority is to recognize the seriousness of an active RCMP investigation and give the police the space they need to do their jobs,” she said.