Skip to main content
//empty //empty

British Columbia’s Auditor-General has found “a number of weaknesses and gaps” in spending oversight for top officers at the legislature that allowed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable expenses to go unchecked.

Carol Bellringer released her report into the Offices of the Speaker, Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms on Thursday, finding expense policies and practices were either inadequate or not followed; violations in purchasing-card usage; and no effective mechanism to report violations to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC).

Ms. Bellringer emphasized that the review was not a financial audit but an effort to inform the Legislative Assembly on its financial processes and practices. She stopped short of ruling out any instances of fraud.

Story continues below advertisement

“I’m being a little cautious in coming straight out and saying, ‘There was no fraud,’ because we can’t be absolute in making that statement,” she said. “But there was nothing that we identified that we said, ‘Gee, this better be brought to an authority.’ ”

Speaker Darryl Plecas spearheaded the very public removal of the legislature’s then-clerk and sergeant-at-arms last fall after secretly undertaking an investigation into their spending. Then Clerk of the House, Craig James, retired in May. The Sergeant-at-Arms, Gary Lenz, remains on leave pending the outcome of investigations by the RCMP and the Auditor-General.

Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz (L) and Clerk of the Legislative Assembly Craig James make a statement to media in Vancouver, B.C., on Nov. 26, 2018.

BEN NELMS/The Canadian Press

Mr. Plecas had said he and special adviser Alan Mullen would resign if an audit didn’t prompt public outrage.

“I am completely confident – completely confident – that those audits will show that we have a lot of work to do here,” he told an all-party financial management committee last December. “And if the outcome of those audits did not outrage the public, did not outrage taxpayers, did not make them throw up, I will resign as Speaker, and Mr. Mullen will resign as well.”

Ms. Bellringer’s audit spanned the period from April 1, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2018, and looked at more than 4,700 transactions totalling $2.2-million.

Among items flagged: $56,641 in travel expenses that Mr. James approved for himself; $20,093 in artwork; and $18,783 in gifts, including three jade bear sculptures totalling $1,428.45.

The audit also identified $17,222 in clothing purchases, including a $1,116 tuxedo, but noted the records lacked details about the items and that the existing policy does not clarify what type of clothing is appropriate to expense.

Story continues below advertisement

The audit found that travel expenses for Mr. Plecas’s office tripled to $60,947 in 2018-19 from $19,888 – an increase that Ms. Bellringer could not explain.

“All of the issues we found could have been mitigated if the Legislative Assembly had clearly assigned responsibility for ensuring that policies are being consistently followed, and that any significant or systemic breaches of policy are being reported to an appropriate authority,” Ms. Bellringer said.

Nine recommendations include creating a comprehensive policy framework to govern both financial practices and how policies are to be authorized; a comprehensive travel policy including documentation of travel purpose and options chosen; and that the Legislative Assembly ensure appropriate expense authorization and review.

Mr. Plecas did not respond to an interview request on Thursday, but said in a statement that Ms. Bellringer’s audit is an important step forward on the path to reform, and that the Legislative Assembly accepts all recommendations.

“The LAMC established a work plan on urgent reforms, and progress has already been made by the committee and the acting clerk on many audit recommendations,” the statement read.

“On my instructions, new policies on employee travel, uniforms and gifts and honoraria have been explicitly extended to my office. The full implementation of all audit report recommendations will be completed in the months ahead.”

Story continues below advertisement

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies