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