The B.C. Legislature was thrown into turmoil once again on Thursday after the Speaker of the House had a private forensic team collect data from the computers of two senior legislative officers – the acting Clerk of the House and the acting Sergeant-at-Arms.
Last fall, Speaker Darryl Plecas spearheaded the very public removal of the legislature’s then-clerk and sergeant-at-arms after secretly undertaking an investigation into their spending. The Clerk of the House, Craig James, retired last week, and the Sergeant-at-Arms, Gary Lenz, remains on leave pending the outcome of investigations by the RCMP and the Auditor-General.
On Thursday, Mr. Plecas suggested a further probe could soon be under way. His efforts to secure potential evidence have swept up the two people who have served in an acting capacity as the top unelected officials of the legislature.
The Speaker said the request for the computer files was simply a matter of “safeguarding” data as potential evidence.
But the B.C. Liberals demanded Mr. Plecas’s removal, and offered one of their own members to stand for the job. The proposal to replace Mr. Plecas with a Liberal MLA – which would preserve the B.C. NDP’s minority government – was promptly rejected by Premier John Horgan, who defended the Speaker’s conduct. “Darryl Plecas is the Speaker, and he will be until he decides not to be.”
On Thursday evening, as the spring legislative session came to a close, every Liberal MLA stood up in the House in turn and accused Mr. Plecas of contempt by compromising the work of the legislature’s senior officers, and asked to be disassociated from any legal action that might arise from his actions.
Earlier in the day, Liberal House Leader Mary Polak took the unusual step of releasing her notes of a private meeting this week between the house leaders and Mr. Plecas, in which she says he outlined his intent to launch another private investigation, this time into corruption within the legislature’s internal police force.
She told reporters Mr. Plecas was “erratic” and aggressive in that meeting, and he repeatedly stated that he has the authority to enter any office in the legislature to take computer data: “What I witnessed in that meeting was bullying,” she said.
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said he was disturbed to see Mr. Plecas and his assistants carrying computer equipment in the buildings on Wednesday night. He said he removed important papers from his office and asked a staff member to sleep in the Liberals’ offices to ensure the Speaker would not try to access the opposition’s computers.
As well, Mr. Wilkinson said members of the legislature police force are preparing to join a union due to the chaos that has enveloped the workplace since their boss, the Sergeant-at-Arms, was marched out of the buildings last fall by Victoria Police.
Earlier this year, the house leaders asked former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlin to review Mr. Plecas’s allegations. Her report, released last week, found that the legislature clerk, Craig James, had repeatedly engaged in misconduct to enrich himself. Mr. James immediately resigned. However, she found no wrongdoing by Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz.
Ms. Polak said the Speaker disparaged the McLachlin report as “pathetic” and “stupid" during a three-hour meeting on Wednesday afternoon. The meeting was called after Ms. Polak learned that Mr. Plecas had hired a private computer data firm to copy computer hard drives of the acting clerk, Kate Ryan-Lloyd, and acting sergeant-at-arms Randy Ennis. Mr. Ennis has tendered his resignation.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr. Plecas said he did not force anyone to turn over their computers. “It’s simply a case of my wanting to make sure that we have data secure, online and on other computers. People did not have to do this,” he said. “We have ongoing investigations, we do not want an instance where we have data not available to investigators.” He said the collection of data “is not” part of any investigation. “I’m not saying there aren’t other investigations coming up … It may be that data is needed in the future.”
In an interview, Mr. Plecas’s senior aide, Alan Mullen, said the Liberals are “creating hysteria” over the Speaker’s efforts to maintain security in the building. “It’s preservation of potential evidence,” he said, but he would not comment on Ms. Polak’s account of the meeting, saying she was wrong to release details of a private meeting.