Skip to main content

British Columbia B.C. spending scandal: How the suspended officials are responding to the allegations

Speaker Darryl Plecas made several colourful and explosive allegations against the top two officers of the B.C. legislature in a report made public in January.

This week, the officers, Clerk of House Craig James and Sergeant-At-Arms Gary Lenz, responded.

Here are the allegations and the responses to them.

Story continues below advertisement

WOOD SPLITTER: :

Mr. Plecas alleges:

That a wood splitter and trailer were purchased by the Legislative Assembly, but never arrived on site and instead were delivered to Mr. James’ personal residence. Mr. Plecas alleged Mr. James and Mr. Lenz purchased the equipment for their own purposes. Mr. Plecas cited receipts of $3,200.91 for the wood splitter and $10,029.60 for the trailer.

“From the Speaker’s inquiries, he understands the justification for the Legislative Assembly purchasing the wood-splitter was that if a crisis situation befell the Legislative Assembly and if in the course of that crisis a tree fell on the Legislature grounds, there could be a need to split the tree up for firewood for use at the Legislature. The Speaker has difficulty accepting that rationale, as the scenario seems very remote, and in any event – even assuming external Emergency Services were not able to attend and handle this scenario – a chainsaw and axe would appear to suffice.”

Mr. James responds:

"These items were purchased by the Legislative Assembly, through proper processes, for proper purposes. I was storing them while storage space at the Legislature (including a concrete pad and path for the trailer) was being constructed. . . I became frustrated at storing the trailer at my home because of its size. (I did not have the space - I live in a strata and not a rural property) and I arranged to have the trailer stored at an RV storage facility. This was known to the Executive Financial Officer (I recall raising the issue with her in my office).

Mr. Lenz responds:

Story continues below advertisement

“The allegations that I (together with the Clerk) have misappropriated a wood splitter and trailer for personal use are false. I have never seen or used the trailer or wood splitter... .The purchases of the trailer, wood splitter and other items like chain saws were part of the emergency preparedness and business continuity program that the Legislative Assembly has been developing.

“My recollection is that the wood splitter was for the purpose of providing firewood for heat and light in the event of a disaster and the trailer was to be available for whatever utility purposes were required, including hauling wood. One of the lessons that we learned from experiences in other parts of the world (such as Christchurch, New Zealand) is that the expectation is that many people will descend upon the legislative assembly in the event of a disaster. Having the means to keep people warm until emergency services has facilities up and running was considered part of prudent emergency planning.”

ALCOHOL:

Mr. Plecas alleges:

“Reports that a large amount of alcohol [had been] loaded into the Clerk’s truck and perhaps taken to [former Speaker of the House Bill] Barisoff’s house in the Okanagan warrants investigation. The alcohol was apparently left over from a conference or event that the Clerk hosted and was placed in a basement vault from which it was later loaded into the truck.”

Mr. James responds:

Story continues below advertisement

“I categorically deny taking $10,000 of liquor, to Mr. Barisoff, or otherwise. What I do remember is that, along with a desk and chair that had been presented to him, and other personal effects, I took some amount of alcohol to Mr. Barisoff’s house (certainly not $10,000 worth) in the Okanagan when I was scheduled to meet with him on Legislative Assembly related matters. I remember that Mr. Barisoff provided a cheque for the alcohol, payable to the Legislative Assembly. It should be in the records, which are unavailable to me.”

Mr. James goes on to mention that the Speaker had asked him to help him create his own wine label.

Mr. Lenz responds:

“I had no involvement in the purchase or returning of the alcohol other than to inform the executive finance officer that the alcohol had been removed from the precinct by the Clerk.” He added that he does not drink alcohol.

MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONS:

Mr. Plecas alleges:

Story continues below advertisement

"A review of the expenses processed through the Clerk’s Office shows that many digital subscriptions are claimed on a monthly basis for Mr. James. While certain of these purchases, such as newspaper subscriptions, may be reasonable, many of the subscriptions purchased by Mr. James through his office appear to be personal in nature. Subscriptions purchased include: monthly Apple Music plan, yearly iCloud storage plan, Bicycling magazine, Arizona Highways magazine, Palm Springs Life magazine, Sunset magazine, Wired, Flightradar24, History Today, India Today, The Economist, New Scientist, Electric Bike Action magazine, the Times of London, Marine Traffic – Ship Tracking, Popular Mechanics, and Forbes.

Mr James responds:

“I accept that expenses incurred for several subscriptions should not have been charged to the Legislative Assembly. I accept that I did not take the care I should have in reviewing these invoices before they were processed for reimbursement to segregate out personal subscriptions (i.e. a Bicycling magazine) from subscriptions that were for business use. I will reimburse these expenses, and I will exercise scrupulous care on this matter moving.”

Mr. Lenz does not mention the magazine subscriptions in in his response.

LAVISH TRAVEL:

Mr. Plecas alleges “flagrant overspending on luxurious trips overseas with questionable business rationales."

Story continues below advertisement

He recounted his first overseas trip with the two officers to Britain for meetings, and that they took him to an exclusive menswear 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.

Mr. James responds:

“I never told the Speaker where he must travel, but he did ask for my input on the issue. In fact, one of his very first directives was that staff create a 3-year travel plan for him... . The Speaker reviewed and approved the itinerary and travel arrangements, including airfare, accommodation, meeting venues, and topics of discussion. My recollection is that his words were ‘I love it!’”

Mr. Lenz responds:

“The trips that I took were not boondoggles... They were for important business of the Legislative Assembly." He said he took part in meetings related to physical security issues, cyber security and environmentally responsible business practices.

“I did not purchase a suit or charge the Legislature for one. I purchased a new hat for my obligatory ceremonial uniform to replace the hat I had inherited from my predecessor, which was over 20 years old and falling apart. I also purchased a set of cufflinks for the Deputy clerk - for her uniform.”

Story continues below advertisement

LIFE INSURANCE AND OTHER BENEFITS:

Mr. Plecas alleges “lack of oversight or appropriate protocols in the awarding of employment benefits, and evidence of attempts to obtain highly questionable further benefits, collectively representing actual or contingent liabilities to the Legislative Assembly totalling in the millions of dollars."

One example he provided involved life insurance: “Mr. James came into my office with two pieces of paper. On each was a typed-out paragraph. One of these related to a life insurance benefit for him. He said he needed my signature as confirmation that he was entitled to a life insurance policy in the amount of three times his annual salary... The other paper related to salary and benefits (including life insurance) for the Sergeant-at-Arms, Gary Lenz. The Clerk knew better than me the protocols, so I trusted and assumed that, because these potentially represented significant liabilities for the Legislative Assembly, they were benefits that had previously been signed off by the Legislative Assembly Management Committee.”

Mr. James responds: “I do not accept that there was an impropriety.”

He said vacation reimbursements "have been in effect since at least 1987 when I began my work at the B.C. Legislature. More recently, these payouts have been made to the Executive Financial Officer, the Deputy Clerk, the Sergeant-at-Arms and myself to name only a few in the Assembly.

“I did not understand there to be any problem with the fact I received a payout for unused vacation. This was approved through appropriate channels, and was not a benefit that was unique to me. Receipt of a payout of vacation was consistent with settled practice. If there is a concern about this moving forward, I believe the LAMC should consider the issue and develop clear rules.”

Mr. Lenz responds: “Until I read the Speaker’s report, I had never heard him raise any concerns about my pay and benefits. To the contrary, on several occasions, in front of the Clerk, Deputy Clerk and other staff, the Speaker went out of his way to say that increases in my remunerations were justified because the Sergeant-at-Arms runs the equivalent of his own police department and has responsibilities well beyond that of a police chief." He added: "My salary and benefits are authorized by the Clerk and approved by the Speaker.”

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 ...

Cannabis pro newsletter