An investigation by former Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin has found the top unelected official in British Columbia’s Legislature repeatedly engaged in misconduct to enrich himself, prompting him to announce his retirement on Thursday.
But Ms. McLachlin cleared the legislature’s head of security, Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, who was swept up in allegations of misuse of taxpayers’ dollars last November when he and then clerk of house Craig James were marched out of the B.C. Legislature under police escort.
Mike Farnworth, government House leader, told reporters the findings should help rebuild public confidence in the institution in the wake of explosive allegations brought forward by Speaker of the House Darryl Plecas last fall. The RCMP and the Auditor-General continue to investigate the Speaker’s complaints of questionable overseas travel, inappropriate expense claims and benefits, and a now-infamous wood-splitter.
The McLachlin report released on Thursday does not substantiate all Mr. Plecas’s allegations against Mr. James, and none of the Speaker’s complaints about Mr. Lenz. Ms. McLachlin was critical of how Mr. Plecas handled the affair, saying he acted more like a criminal investigator than the top administrator that he is, and that he “did not consistently exercise supervisory authority over the Clerk.”
However she found, repeatedly, that Mr. James’s attempts to defend his actions lacked credibility.
During her two-month investigation, Mr. James told the former judge he planned to reform the uniforms worn by officers of the House, to explain why he bought two $1,000 suits in London at public expense. She found the suits were in fact for his personal use. She rejected his claim that pricey luggage sets he purchased would be shared with elected officials. A wood-splitter and trailer bought as part of a legislature emergency plan, she found, served only for the former clerk’s home projects. And she dismissed his account of boxes of alcohol that were loaded into his truck from the legislature.
But the most lucrative arrangements involved changes Mr. James spearheaded to improve his insurance and retirement benefits, as well as a retirement payout of more than $250,000. “I conclude that Mr. James engaged in misconduct by directing the creation of three benefits to his personal advantage outside of established protocols,” she found.
In a statement Thursday, Mr. James maintained there are submissions and documents that should be made public that would help the public understand the truth. “But I have had enough. I have been publicly ridiculed and vilified. My family has been deeply hurt and continues to suffer humiliation. In an effort to put an end to that, I have decided to retire, and reach a settlement with the Legislative Assembly.”
That settlement has not been disclosed but does not involve a cash settlement, Mr. Farnworth said. Mr. Lenz, meanwhile, remains on paid leave until three other probes are completed: A workplace review, the RCMP investigation and the Auditor-General’s forensic audit. The Auditor’s findings are expected to be tabled in the next month, while the RCMP say their investigation is progressing.
Mr. Lenz said in an interview that he was pleased to have been exonerated in the McLachlin report, adding that he will co-operate in the remaining investigations. “I’ve always said I’ve done nothing wrong. My goal is to return to work, and I understand there is a process and we have to respect that.”
He said the original allegations raised by the Speaker “caused immeasurable damage to my reputation,” but said he said he could work with Mr. Plecas again. "These are good people who are passionate about their jobs, and I’m passionate about it – we all want to make democracy better, we want to make the system better, and I just want to be a part of that.”
Mr. Plecas said he still hopes the public will be compensated for misspent dollars. “We still have issues outstanding and hopefully we’ll get to a place where that can happen.”
He would not say if he was satisfied that Mr. James retired. “I’d rather not comment on that.”
The Speaker defended his approach to the matter, saying others before him have raised concerns about the lack of financial oversight, without results. “All I did was bring it to light.”
Ultimately, Ms. McLachlin blamed a weak system of accountability within the B.C. Legislature for what happened: “When there is a lack of clarity about who is in charge of what, power seeps through the cracks and vigilant oversight is compromised.”