There’s an old saying that when you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing at you. It’s an idiom that always seems particularly apt for B.C. politics.
The Opposition Liberals found themselves in a state of great outrage this week after it was revealed that Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff had shielded his boss from the contents of a report detailing allegations of misconduct against the former clerk of the House, Craig James, and the former sergeant-at-arms, Gary Lenz.
At the time, Geoff Meggs recommended that Speaker Darryl Plecas, the one who brought the matter to his attention, would best be advised to take the information to police. This, in fact, is what the Speaker would end up doing. Mr. Meggs later shredded the document.
When this came to light amid a new report released this week into the conduct of the two disgraced and since-departed officials, it compelled the Liberals to demand Mr. Meggs’s resignation.
Now, it can certainly be argued that Mr. Meggs should have maintained his copy of the report, even if it contained, at the time, mostly unsubstantiated allegations. He has since argued that he worried it might inadvertently fall into the wrong hands and be used for unseemly purposes. It seems to me, however, that would only happen if someone broke into his office and seized it.
However, he correctly argued that his was not the only copy of the report that existed. The Speaker had one and there were others. So he was not destroying evidence that could never be found again.
And on the question of whether he should have alerted the Premier to the report’s contents, again this is a judgment call. A chief of staff’s primary job is to protect his or her boss from matters that could compromise them in some way. In this instance, Mr. Horgan had a personal dislike for Mr. James going way back. He had, quite presciently it turns out, opposed his elevation to the role of clerk. Consequently, had he used the information to try to get rid of Mr. James, he might have been accused of having an axe to grind.
Besides, as Mr. Horgan himself argued, he has no jurisdiction over these matters anyway. The goings-on inside the precincts of the legislature are the responsibility of the Speaker and a committee of the legislature to whom he reports. If Mr. Horgan had direct authority over the conduct of the two officials in question, it would have been entirely different.
Beyond that, it is more than a bit rich for the Liberals to be demanding resignations of anyone for “destroying evidence.” This is the party and government that brought us “triple delete,” the technique that ministerial aides were encouraged to use to destroy potentially damaging or incriminating e-mails. There were likely thousands of such missives that were wiped out before the practice was brought to light and measures brought in to end its use.
It’s also worth noting that in the report made public this week, it was revealed that Liberal MLA Linda Reid, who was Speaker during the period in which much of the detrimental conduct by the two officials took place, refused to fully co-operate with the lead investigator.
And so we had the scene on Thursday in which reporters were bird-dogging Ms. Reid down a legislature hallway demanding to know why she hadn’t obliged the overtures of the report’s author, Doug LePard.
Ms. Reid said she was out of town when Mr. LePard wanted to talk to her so she answered some questions through her lawyer. Mr. LePard said she didn’t answer the key one: Was she aware of any of the dubious conduct of which the officials are accused?
Ms. Reid took over as Speaker shortly after an incident in which $10,000 worth of liquor, paid for by taxpayers, was loaded into Mr. James’s truck under the direction of Mr. Lenz – an event that had tongues wagging among staff in the building. It seems highly unlikely that Ms. Reid, in her new role, wouldn’t have heard something about it.
There are still criminal investigations into what took place, which might determine who knew what when. I think it would speak volumes if Ms. Reid continued to maintain her silence around the information she possessed about the less-than-honourable behaviour taking place right under her nose.
Until then, the Liberals should be wary about just whom they are pointing fingers at in this tawdry affair. Inevitably there are going to be fingers pointing right back at them.