‘I NEED TO KNOW WHAT’S GO­ING ON’

Au­di­tor Gen­eral awaits de­vel­op­ments while leg­is­la­ture’s two top of­fi­cials are sus­pended with pay dur­ing RCMP in­ves­ti­ga­tion

StarMetro Vancouver - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID P. BALL

Ex­clu­sive B.C. au­di­tor gen­eral won’t sign off on leg­is­la­ture’s fi­nan­cials amid in­trigue. What we know so far about the mys­te­ri­ous crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into top of­fi­cials

Bri­tish Columbia’s gov­ern­ment spend­ing watch­dog is re­fus­ing to pro­vide her usual state­ment that the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture’s books ap­pear accurate, even though she has al­ready re­viewed them, Starmetro has learned.

In a phone in­ter­view Fri­day, Au­di­tor Gen­eral Carol Bell­ringer said the un­usual move to with­hold her “state­ment au­dit” of the pro­vin­cial as­sem­bly’s fi­nan­cials came amid grow­ing in­trigue around why the leg­is­la­ture’s two top of­fi­cials were pub­licly sus­pended Nov. 20 and es­corted away by po­lice.

“We com­pleted … the work we nor­mally do to be fin­ished, then all this hap­pened,” re­vealed Bell­ringer, who has been in her po­si­tion as the leg­is­la­ture-ap­pointed in­de­pen­dent watch­dog since 2014.

What hap­pened was the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly’s two top non­par­ti­san of­fi­cers were sus­pended with pay by the MLAS’ unan­i­mous vote: Clerk of the House Craig James, who over­saw its $70mil­lion bud­get and op­er­a­tions,

and Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, head of se­cu­rity.

The sus­pended pair said they did noth­ing wrong and don’t even know what they are ac­cused of. Nei­ther has been charged with any crime.

James, who was ap­pointed clerk for life in 2011, told re­porters he had not done any­thing wrong and should be al­lowed to re­turn to work. He said his bud­get in­cludes the 125-year-old build­ing’s main­te­nance and op­er­a­tions, se­cu­rity, land­scap­ing, a li­brary as well as MLAS’ con­stituency of­fices.

He is the high­est-paid leg­is­la­ture clerk in Canada, earn­ing nearly $350,000 a year — nearly 45 per cent more than the On­tario leg­is­la­ture clerk’s roughly $241,000 in­come. The fed­eral House of Com­mons clerk earns some­where be­tween $207,000$243,000;

their Que­bec na­tional as­sem­bly coun­ter­part earns at least $238,000.

James and Lenz were the leg­is­la­ture’s two high­est-rank­ing non-par­ti­san of­fi­cers, and both re­ported to Speaker Dar­ryl Ple­cas. It was Ple­cas’ own opaquely ti­tled “spe­cial ad­viser” Alan Mullen who qui­etly probed the un­spec­i­fied al­le­ga­tions since Jan­uary be­fore in­volv­ing the RCMP.

Since that un­prece­dented day con­fu­sion, anger, ru­mour — and some un­proven con­spir­acy the­o­ries — have bur­geoned in Vic­to­ria. But with the as­sem­bly ex­empted from B.C.’S free­dom of in­for­ma­tion laws that al­low jour­nal­ists, par­ties or cit­i­zens to re­quest doc­u­ments from other gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, crit­ics say such a mys­te­ri­ous and se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion is made worse by a lack of trans­parency.

“With­out ques­tion, a les­son learned this past week is that the ac­cess-to-in­for­ma­tion law must be amended to in­clude the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly,” said Der­mod Travis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non-profit group In­tegrity BC. “Another les­son is that when you are not forth­right and clear with the pub­lic about these types of de­ci­sions that are so high-pro­file, you end up cre­at­ing a big­ger mess for the in­di­vid­u­als con­cerned.”

The RCMP has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing un­spec­i­fied crim­i­nal al­le­ga­tions since late Septem­ber, and ap­pointed two spe­cial pros­e­cu­tors to over­see the probe to en­sure it is free from in­flu­ence or in­ter­fer­ence.

Lenz and James re­peat­edly in­sisted to re­porters that they have had no con­tact with po­lice nor the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tors in the three months since the RCMP opened the probe nor since their sus­pen­sion.

Bell­ringer said she has no clue what the al­le­ga­tions might be to spark the sus­pen­sions, but has spo­ken with Ple­cas and the act­ing clerk, whom she sees at fi­nance and au­dit meet­ings of the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly’s man­age­ment com­mit­tee.

“WHEN YOU ARE NOT FORTH­RIGHT AND CLEAR WITH THE PUB­LIC ABOUT THESE TYPES OF DE­CI­SIONS THAT ARE SO HIGH-PRO­FILE, YOU END UP CRE­AT­ING A BIG­GER MESS.”

Der­mod Travis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, In­tegrity BC

The leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly’s two top non-par­ti­san of­fi­cers were sus­pended with pay by the MLAS’ unan­i­mous vote: Clerk of the House Craig James, right, and Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, head of se­cu­rity. JESSE WIN­TER/THES­TAR.COM

JESSE WIN­TER/STARMETRO

B.C. Au­di­tor Gen­eral Carol Bell­ringer is with­hold­ing her state­ment au­dit pend­ing re­sults of an RCMP in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

JESSE WIN­TER/STARMETRO

Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, left, and clerk of the leg­is­la­ture Craig James, right, say they don’t know what they are ac­cused of. Nei­ther has been charged with any crime.

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