Imagine showing up for work one day and, about mid-morning, you and a colleague are summoned into the boss’s office.
You’re told that you’re both being placed on leave and, oh yeah, you’re also the subject of an RCMP investigation. When you ask what it’s all about, the boss says he can’t say.
You’re then ordered to turn in your company phone, computer and other possessions and are marched out of your place of employment by police – in front of friends and colleagues and the media, which is chronicling every humiliating second of your ordeal.
Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, the two most senior, non-partisan officials at the British Columbia Legislature, had this happen to them last week. On Monday, the pair broke their silence, describing how painful and mortifying the entire matter has been.
Mr. Lenz told a news conference that the day of his very public suspension, his daughter received a text from a friend who heard about what had taken place. The friend said she was sorry to hear about what happened to Mr. Lenz, and that her prayers were with the family.
Mr. Lenz’s daughter had no idea what was going on and, when she couldn’t reach her father (because he had to turn in his phone), she assumed the worst. She assumed he was dead.
Both Mr. Lenz and Mr. James say they still have no idea what’s behind the investigation. However, they both insist they have done nothing wrong, and look forward to having their names cleared. There has been speculation the investigation is into some type of financial irregularities. But Mr. James said his expenses go through a rigorous examination, by several offices. He said there are lots of people in a position to question expense claims of his and Mr. Lenz if they didn’t add up – but that’s never happened.
There is little question that some of the information that has emerged in the wake of last Thursday’s dramatic events is concerning – and none of it is related to the conduct of the two legislative staff members.
We know that House Speaker Darryl Plecas hired a friend as an adviser earlier this year. And one of the responsibilities he gave him was to look into concerns he had related to something, we don’t know what, Mr. Lenz and Mr. James had done. What authority this adviser, Alan Mullen, had to conduct a probe into the activities of two of the most senior officials in the legislature remains a mystery. We don’t know what private information of Mr. Lenz’s and Mr. James’s was provided to Mr. Mullen and on what grounds.
However, we do know that Mr. Plecas suggested to the house leaders of the three parties that Mr. Mullen replace Mr. Lenz as acting sergeant-at-arms until the RCMP investigation was wrapped up. Imagine that. The Speaker brings in a friend to conduct a clandestine probe that leads to the temporary ouster of a pair of senior officials and then suggests his buddy be given the job of one of those who’s been suspended.
In another time, that alone would likely be enough to end someone’s time in the Speaker’s chair but it won’t happen here.
Mr. Plecas is despised by the BC Liberals for deserting them and becoming Speaker, giving the NDP and the Greens a small cushion to govern as a coalition without constantly worrying about being toppled. So the Liberals want to make Mr. Plecas look as horrible as possible. (Not that it’s been that difficult).
The NDP are in full damage control and are trying to play down the way this whole thing has been handled. I suppose they have no choice. Mr. Plecas, for his part, has hired an additional adviser, former Liberal cabinet minister and former attorney-general Wally Oppal, to provide some cover.
Despite how wondrously this matter has been botched by the Speaker’s office, and I mean from the start, the fact remains two men are under RCMP investigation. And two special prosecutors have been appointed to remove politics from any down-the-road decisions that need to be made. As such, I don’t see how the two men can return to their jobs (as they are requesting) until the investigation has been completed – as much as I sympathize with them for the suffering it’s undoubtedly caused.
This will come to a conclusion, hopefully soon. And when it does, my gut tells me there will be some explaining to do. Lots of it. And not by the two men whose activities are being investigated.