The house leaders of all three parties in the B.C. Legislature rejected a proposal from Speaker Darryl Plecas to install his political aide and personal friend as the replacement for one of the two top officials suddenly placed on administrative leave earlier this week.
In a sworn statement, Liberal House Leader Mary Polak said Mr. Plecas proposed that his special adviser Alan Mullen, hired in January in part to co-ordinate an investigation into the sergeant-at-arms and clerk of the legislature, should be appointed as acting sergeant-at-arms.
Ms. Polak said that proposal was rejected by all parties at a closed-door meeting Monday night that the Speaker had called to lay out the plan to remove the two officers of the legislature, because they are the subject of a criminal investigation. On Tuesday, Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk of the House Craig James were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the RCMP investigation into unspecified wrongdoing connected to their official duties. They were removed from the legislature under a police escort.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Plecas sent Mr. Mullen to announce to a large crowd of reporters camped outside the Speaker’s office the appointment of a second special adviser to the Speaker – former Liberal attorney-general Wally Oppal.
Premier John Horgan said the turmoil this week threatens to cast the whole of government under a cloud.
“This is a shock to the institution and a shock to British Columbians," Mr. Horgan told reporters Thursday. “I’m hopeful that the investigation will be concluded as quickly as possible, particularly for the individuals involved, but most importantly, so the public can have confidence.”
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson echoed that concern, saying: “This is a test for our democracy.”
He said the Speaker should explain what qualifications Mr. Mullen had to conduct a secret investigation of the officers of the legislature. Mr. Mullen is not a lawyer, but told reporters he had conducted investigations when he worked as a manager in a maximum-security correctional facility. His friendship with Mr. Plecas goes back to their work in the corrections system.
Before bringing his allegations to the police in August, Mr. Plecas had hired Mr. Mullen to investigate his concerns about Mr. Lenz and Mr. James.
Mr. Mullen, who has been speaking to the media on Mr. Plecas’s behalf, said Mr. Oppal, a former judge, will advise “on all things legal.” Mr. Mullen would not answer questions, but said in a brief statement: “We could not be more honoured and pleased that Justice Oppal has agreed to come on as second special adviser.”
Mr. Oppal will meet with the Speaker on Friday. Reached by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Oppal said in a telephone interview that he could not comment now on his appointment in the Speaker’s office.
The Speaker was elected as a BC Liberal MLA, but took the non-partisan post as the Speaker of the House in September, 2017. His decision ended a looming crisis for the minority NDP government by eliminating the need for the New Democrats to provide one of their own members as Speaker, who would have had to regularly break tie votes.
Mr. Plecas was kicked out of the Liberal Party for taking the post, which was deemed a betrayal of his former caucus colleagues, and he now sits as an Independent MLA.
Mr. Horgan would not say on Thursday whether he is confident about Mr. Plecas’s conduct in arranging the ouster of two long-serving officers who were highly regarded by the MLAs they served. Instead, the Premier said he was confident that the three house leaders will "work with the Speaker’s office to ensure the functioning of the legislature continues.”
Ms. Polak’s sworn statement recounted that she attended a meeting with the other house leaders in the Speaker’s office at 8 p.m. on Nov. 19, where the Speaker “stated his wish that Alan Mullen be appointed as acting sergeant-at-arms of the legislature, after the departure of Gary Lenz from that position.” Her account was confirmed by Government House Leader Mike Farnworth.
Ms. Polak said she was unaware of the role Mr. Mullen had played in investigating Mr. Lenz and Mr. James until he spoke to the media on Wednesday.
“I heard about it at the same time you did,” she said. “It’s not appropriate.” She said she was called to the meeting on Monday night where she learned that two officers of the legislature were the subject of a police investigation and that special prosecutors had been appointed. The house leaders were asked to persuade all MLAs to support the extraordinary motion to remove the two officers in a carefully orchestrated manoeuvre, so that Mr. Lenz and Mr. James had no advance warning of the motion.
With a report from Ian Bailey