The two senior officials at the centre of an alleged spending scandal in the B.C. Legislature have provided detailed denials of wrongdoing, calling the allegations brought forward by Speaker of the House Darryl Plecas unfounded.
In a report made public in January, the Speaker detailed what he described as flagrant spending and other abuses of taxpayer money by Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, prompting a criminal investigation by the RCMP that is still ongoing. It was the first explanation of why the two senior officers of the legislature were suspended with pay last November.
The allegations have led to an investigation by the Auditor-General, and commitments from elected officials on all sides of the House to enact reforms to ensure more transparency and stricter spending controls within the legislature.
Members of the all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee have not yet met to discuss the responses. Copies of the two reports were obtained by The Globe and Mail, and the committee is currently consulting legal counsel before deciding its next move.
“I have done nothing wrong and I wish to return to work,” Mr. Lenz wrote. “As your Sergeant-at-Arms, I have sworn to lay down my life for your protection when dire threats arise against you."
Mr. James said he was “disappointed” that concerns were not brought to him. “I had no opportunity to explain why those concerns are not well-founded, before my reputation was demolished on the basis of a one-sided and inaccurate document.”
Mr. Plecas alleges that the pair reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars in overspending on travel, jewellery and other inappropriate benefits, and charged personal purchases to taxpayers.
Some of the specifics include:
- A wood-splitter and trailer − together worth about $13,000 − were bought by the Legislative Assembly, but ended up at Mr. James’s home. Mr. James, in his rebuttal, said the equipment was approved as part of an emergency response plan. “I was storing them while storage space at the legislature … was being constructed.” He said he became frustrated with the delays and he sent the equipment to an RV storage facility.
- Mr. Plecas recounted that building staff were enlisted to load an estimated $10,000 worth of wine into Mr. James’s truck, purportedly to be delivered to a former Speaker of the House, Bill Barisoff. Mr. James said he did deliver some alcohol, but it was paid for by Mr. Barisoff. " I took some amount of alcohol to Mr. Barisoff’s house (certainly not $10,000 worth) in the Okanagan … I remember that Mr. Barisoff provided a cheque for the alcohol, payable to the Legislative Assembly."
- Mr. Plecas said the pair indulged in lavish overseas travel. He recounted his first overseas trip with the two officers to Britain for meetings, and that they took him to an exclusive men’s wear shop in London to be fitted for a new Speaker’s hat. At that time, Mr. James bought a new suit and other items worth $1,300, while Mr. Lenz purchased $660 worth of items, including mother-of-pearl cufflinks. “The trips that I took were not boondoggles," Mr. Lenz wrote. “They were for important business of the Legislative Assembly,” he wrote. He said his expenses were “legitimate and reasonable" and that he was helping reduce costs over time by modernizing the uniforms for legislature staff.
- Mr. Plecas suggested both officers have negotiated excessive salaries and benefits. Mr. James makes $347,000 annually, and Mr. Lenz is paid $194,000 per year – both of them in excess of the maximums available to their counterparts in the federal House of Commons. Mr. Lenz said the Speaker “went out of his way to say that increases in my remunerations were justified.” And Mr. James said his pay and benefits were approved by the Speaker, and if there are concerns, there should be “clear rules” put in place.
- On one matter, Mr. James expressed regret − he says he will repay expenses for his multiple magazine subscriptions, including Arizona Highways, Palm Springs Life and Electric Bike Action. “I accept that expenses incurred for several subscriptions should not have been charged to the Legislative Assembly.”