The top administrator for the British Columbia Legislature – now suspended from work pending the outcome of a criminal investigation – says he was the architect of “bulletproof” accounting changes that tightened up spending controls for the Legislative Assembly.
A week after police escorted Craig James, Clerk of the House, and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz out of the legislature, both men say they do not know what allegations they face. But as the officer responsible for the $78-million budget for B.C.’s parliament, Mr. James addressed questions in a news conference on whether the investigation may centre on financial improprieties.
In 2012, B.C.'s Auditor-General said financial management of the legislature had “significant deficiencies,” including sloppy handling of travel expenses and poor inventory management for the dining room and gift shop.
Mr. James said he helped shape new policies to enhance the legislature’s auditing processes and to open up to the public the process of spending by top officials, elected and non-elected. He said those changes have resulted in a clean bill of health from the Auditor-General ever since. “I have established processes in the Legislative Assembly that are essentially bulletproof," he said.
Colleen Rose, communications manager for the Auditor-General, said in an e-mail that the office has issued clean financial audits of the Legislative Assembly since 2013-14.
Ms. Rose earlier said the office is unaware of any police investigation involving the spending of the Legislative Assembly. “We only know what has been in the media so far," she said in a statement.
Mr. James and Mr. Lenz denied any wrongdoing and are asking to be reinstated, and the Liberal Opposition pressed for a chance to reconsider the decision – in which they took part – to expel the two officials.
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson told reporters outside the legislature that the conduct of the Speaker of the House, Darryl Plecas, has created a national scandal. The Liberals have raised concerns that the Speaker hired a friend as a special assistant in January to help him conduct a private investigation into unspecified concerns about the legislature’s top officials – concerns Mr. Plecas brought to police in the summer. His office had the two men escorted off the premises last Tuesday – a public spectacle Mr. Lenz and Mr. James called humiliating.
“There is a grave concern the Speaker is out of control," Mr. Wilkinson said. "There is no precedent anywhere in the British Commonwealth for the conduct of the Speaker.”
Deputy Speaker Raj Chouhan rejected the Liberals' bid to debate the issue in the House after the NDP and the Greens cautioned against any discussion that could undermine the work of the police.
Meanwhile, Mr. Plecas issued a four-page letter to House leaders defending his handling of the affair, saying he quietly investigated and went to police only after “serious concerns” were brought to his attention. Asked by reporters about his office’s investigation, he said he was simply doing due diligence and "I’m thinking you might want to do some of your own.”
The Liberals have said their decision to support the removal of the two officers was made without all the relevant facts, and that they had assumed lawyers for the Ministry of the Attorney-General had assessed the legal implications.
But Mr. Plecas said in his letter that all MLAs took part in the decision based on the knowledge he shared with the House leaders on Nov. 19 about a criminal investigation and the appointment of special prosecutors.
“There was unqualified unanimity that it would not be appropriate for these permanent officers to continue to be at the Assembly in the face of an active criminal investigation regarding their actions related to the Assembly,” Mr. Plecas wrote.
He noted that when he informed Liberal House Leader Mary Polak of the concerns about the two officers, she “stated that she did not want or need any further information about the allegations beyond knowing that there was an active RCMP investigation.”
At a news conference in his lawyers' office, Mr. Lenz spoke for the first time publicly since MLAs voted to remove both officers. As a seasoned RCMP officer, he challenged the way MLAs handled the affair.
Mr. Lenz, whose voice caught as he delivered some of his remarks, said he came home without a phone after being escorted out of the legislature.
He described the emotional impact on his daughter, who was unaware of what had happened, of receiving a text at work that said: “Sorry to hear about your father. Our prayers are with your family.” She then could not reach him. He said he is now lucky to get three hours sleep a night, and is finding it hard to eat.
“I know I have done nothing wrong. It’s not an issue of anything I have done that’s going to be coming out.”