VICTORIA — Speaker Darryl Plecas famously said two things about the concerns that led to last fall’s ouster of the clerk of the legislature and the sergeant-at-arms.
“The public deserves full disclosure,” he declared after calls for him to tell why he went to the police, “and boy are they going to get it.”
Monday Plecas delivered in full with a 76 page report that positively seethed with allegations about spending abuses of one kind or another, backed up with 31 separate and well-documented exhibits.
Mr. Speaker had also predicted in advance that his concerns, when publicly disclosed, would induce people to “throw up.”
And when NDP house leader Mike Farnworth responded to the Plecas report on Monday, one of the first things he said was “it made me sick.”
As for the B.C. Liberals, when I asked house leader Mary Polak point blank if she thought Plecas had done the right thing, she quibbled briefly about the timing and details of how he proceeded. But she did not dispute that he had, on balance, done the right thing in pulling all this together — documenting his concerns, delivering the material to the police, airing it in a public report.
The first sign that sympathies at the legislature had turned in favour of the Speaker and against the two ousted senior officers came in the space of three minutes on Monday afternoon.
The four New Democrats, two Liberals and one Green MLA on the legislative assembly management committee met in closed door conclave for more than two hours. They were deciding how to proceed in light of the shocking contents of the Plecas report, which had been given to them over the weekend.
After breaking for lunch, they reconvened in an open meeting at 2.45 p.m. and immediately took up four motions.
Motion to commission a comprehensive financial audit, addressing matters contained in the Speaker’s report: Approved unanimously, without discussion.
Motion to undertake a review of the workplace at the legislature, again addressing concerns raised by the Speaker: Approved unanimously, without discussion.
Motion for the house leaders of the three parties to consider the serious allegations in the report against the ousted clerk and sergeant-at-arms, after first giving them until Feb. 1 to respond in writing: Again unanimous. Again no comment.
Motion to release the report to the public, so people could see for themselves what had prompted Plecas to act and whether they thought it was warranted: Approved.
And with that the committee adjourned at 2.48 p.m..
The report itself was released an hour later and is available on the legislative assembly website, along with all the exhibits.
An exhaustive account of the allegations would fill a good part of today’s newspaper.
But together they suggest a culture of entitlement and junketeering at taxpayer expense that fully deserved to be exposed and that is not likely to be repeated in future. Indeed, under acting clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd, the process of reining in the excesses has already begun.
But it should be noted that none of the allegations has been tested in court, that some of the abuses (outrageous as they are) may well have been within guidelines and that Plecas himself allowed the abuses to accumulate before taking decisive action.
In defence, the ousted clerk Craig James and sergeant at arms Gary Lenz pleaded that they were not shown the report in advance, nor given a chance to respond.
“We are only now able to read the allegations for the first time and we are confident that time will show that they are completely false and untrue,” they wrote in a statement released by their lawyers. “We will work through the allegations and provide a detailed response in due course.“
But as to where this is likely headed in the interim, the report contains a strong hint in a discussion of why it was released in spite of the continuing investigation by police under the direction of two special prosecutors.
“Waiting until after a criminal process concludes likely presents unacceptable delay, both for the public institution and the officers at issue,” Plecas writes in a refreshing refutation of the long-standing excuse used for stonewalling when matters are in the hands of police.
“It is entirely normal to have concurrent workplace and criminal investigations,” writes Mr. Speaker, who is also a criminologist. “If the suggestion is that any release of the information in this report would interfere with the criminal process, that raises the prospect that the legislative assembly, as employer, will not have an opportunity, perhaps for years, to consider whether the permanent officers should remain on administrative leave with pay.
“Similarly, it may prevent the legislative assembly from fully examining what has occurred and making timely and appropriate changes to accounting and employment practices.
I took the foregoing as a hint that the house leaders should revisit the decision to place the two senior officers on administrative leave and consider the alternative of termination.
They have plenty of time to mull it over, because the change of status would take a decision by the whole house, which is not scheduled to sit until Feb. 12.
Meanwhile, the public can read the contents for themselves, as they are posted on the legislature website. But in my own preliminary reading, I would not be surprised if, rhetorically speaking, there were a run on airsickness bags.