The governing B.C. Liberals and opposition New Democrats, in a rare show of unity, are rallying behind the Speaker Linda Reid over expensive renovations to the legislature that include new drapes and a members' lounge with free muffins, but suggest she will have to explain why they were needed.
Ms. Reid, who as Speaker is responsible for spending on legislature matters, came under scrutiny on Tuesday after a newspaper reported that more than $131,000 in renovations went through on her watch.
In unusually conciliatory remarks on Tuesday, opposition House Leader John Horgan said that Ms. Reid, a six-term Liberal MLA for Richmond East, understands the need to be accountable.
Mr. Horgan, who has aggressively taken on the government on various files, told reporters he gave "full credit" to Ms. Reid for easing the secrecy that previously surrounded expenditures for the legislature since she became speaker last July.
At one point, he referred to the speaker, who manages a $70-million legislature budget, as "Linda."
"Now that we have done that, we have to be accountable for that and I think Ms. Reid understands that," said Mr. Horgan, a member of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, whose members from both the Liberals and NDP preside over legislature spending.
"The openness leads to criticism and we have to be strong enough to take that criticism, and if it's legitimate that we stop those services, we should do so," he said.
The expenditures, reported in The Vancouver Sun, include $13,448 to convert part of the legislature library into a TV lounge for MLAs with a $733 food display case for free coffee and muffins and $13,965 for new drapes in the legislature dining room. There's also a $42,949 wheelchair ramp to the legislature library.
The media scrum area got $6,278 in drapes and shades, and the legislative chamber $48,412 for the design and construction of a custom touch-screen computer terminal at the Speaker's chair.
Ms. Reid did not respond to calls from The Globe and Mail for comment on the expenses, which also include $6,337 in new drapes and recovered chairs in her office.
Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong, also the Finance Minister, was supportive of Ms. Reid, and noted that the assembly management committee meets next week, allowing her an opportunity to comment on the expenses and provide her "rationale."
"The public is justified, in my view, to scrutinize every single tax dollar that is spent," said Mr. de Jong.
Mr. Horgan quipped, "I haven't availed myself of the muffins," and noted many in the province could not afford such treats or even the newspaper to read about them. "I don't want to be glib about this," he said, suggesting the baked goods may stop.
He said he supported capital improvements such as the wheelchair ramp and the speakers' legislature terminal, adding that care is required to upgrade the aging building. "You can't just get a two-by-four and a couple sheets of plywood. There's an expectation that we're going to put craftsmanship in the building today comparable to the craftsmanship of the past," he said. "There's an additional cost in that regard."
The Sun also reported that Ms. Reid had hired her election campaign manager as executive assistant in the speakers office and the new assistant is billing for hotel stays and expenses. Mr. Horgan called this an "HR issue" he could not comment on.
Mr. de Jong said he was wary about commenting without further information.
With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria
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