Attendance at Monday’s meeting of the committee that oversees management of the B.C. legislature is expected to be at capacity. The committee’s work rarely draws much public attention but this time, television news outlets have been negotiating in advance for space to jam cameras in the meeting room, in anticipation that the Speaker of the House, Darryl Plecas, will finally reveal what alleged wrongdoing drove him to call in the RCMP last summer to investigate two senior legislature officials.
The contents of the Speaker’s report will be restrained by an active RCMP investigation into the two officials, but Mr. Plecas has staked his political career on a dramatic reveal.
In December, the Speaker vowed to resign his post if the public isn’t sickened by what they learn when a forensic audit examines spending practices within the legislature.
At that time, Mr. Plecas refused to elaborate, saying he needed time to prepare his revelations, to ensure he doesn’t foul the work of police.
What he didn’t say is why Craig James, Clerk of the House, and Gary Lenz, the Sergeant-at-Arms, were suspended with pay. The RCMP are investigating the two – who deny any wrongdoing – under the guidance of two special prosecutors.
To date, Mr. Plecas has only dropped vague hints about financial mismanagement and issues with “workplace environment” to explain what he took to police after months of his own, secretive, in-house investigation.
“What this committee is going to hear is going to be as detailed as possible,” Mr. Plecas promised the committee members in December. “I will give you a long laundry list of my concerns. I won't be talking about the criminal investigation. I will talk about everything but the criminal investigation.”
Mr. Plecas called for a forensic audit of his office, and the offices of the Clerk and the Sargeant-at-Arms, going back years. “If the outcome of those audits did not outrage the public, did not outrage taxpayers, did not make them throw up, I will resign as Speaker," he said.
It’s not clear whether the committee can approve such an audit, and the first order of business will be to kick the news media out of the room to consider the legal implications of conducting such an audit while the police continue their work.
The all-party committee is responsible for the management and security of the B.C. legislature, including an annual budget of roughly $80-million, and their work has been largely sidelined since Mr. Plecas promised to drop a bombshell.
Both the Auditor-General of British Columbia and the acting clerk of the House are now refusing to sign off on the financial reports of the legislature, because they do not know what part of the budget the police are investigating.
Mary Polak, House Leader for the Opposition Liberals, said the committee can’t carry on its work without some answers from Mr. Plecas. "If you can’t examine the finances that the Speaker has called into question, how do we move forward?”
The drama became public in November, when the province’s MLAs unanimously voted to suspend Mr. James and Mr. Lenz. MLAs were asked to take the unprecedented action without being told the nature of the allegations, and the Liberal Opposition has been expressing regret for acting without sufficient information ever since.
But it turned out Mr. Plecas had been on the trail of alleged wrongdoing for a year or more, and that is what Ms. Polak hopes he will explain when he makes his report. “Did you target these two people from the beginning or were you looking at others, did you look at MLAs? What did you do and how were you authorized? These are important questions that [relate] to the future."
But the chances of a letdown are significant. “There is every chance we will have more questions than answers by the time we leave on Monday,” Ms. Polak said.
However Alan Mullen, special adviser to Mr. Plecas, said the Speaker’s report to the committee will be worth watching, even though he must skirt around anything that touches on the criminal investigation. “The media – and the public in general – l think will be very interested in what the Speaker has to say on Monday," he said. “There are other concerns the Speaker has that aren’t part of that investigation. I think it is going to be eye-opening for everyone.”