The Province

Michael Smyth examines the unpreceden­ted turmoil in the B.C. Legislatur­e

Plecas’ judgment questioned amid suspension of top officials

- @MikeSmythN­ews

It was one of the most shocking spectacles ever witnessed at the B.C. legislatur­e, a place that’s seen its share of scandal.

The sight of the clerk and the sergeant-at-arms — the top two officials in the place, still wearing their ceremonial robes of office — as they were perp-walked out of the building under police escort as TV cameras rolled.

It was a humiliatin­g walk of shame for Craig James, the long-serving clerk, and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, a former RCMP inspector responsibl­e for safety and security.

Members of the legislatur­e voted unanimousl­y to suspend the two men with pay while they are subject of an RCMP investigat­ion overseen by a pair of independen­t special prosecutor­s.

No one is saying what they’re suspected of doing, other than it has to do with their “administra­tive duties.” No charges have been laid. The unpreceden­ted situation has ignited a political firestorm at the legislatur­e that threatens to burn hotter this week.

The lawyer for James and Lenz insist their clients are innocent and want their jobs back.

“They are the most senior and long-serving and loyal servants of the legislativ­e assembly whose reputation­s are in the process of being destroyed by these events,” lawyer Mark Andrews wrote to the three party house leaders at the legislatur­e.

The scorching three-page lawyer’s letter says James and Lenz have still not been told what the investigat­ion is about.

And it goes on the attack against Speaker Darryl Plecas, who hired a personal friend, former prison administra­tor Alan Mullen, to secretly investigat­e James and Lenz last January and who then took his findings to police in August.

“The Speaker has no constituti­onal authority to carry out an investigat­ion of the Clerk of the Legislativ­e Assembly or the Sergeant-at-Arms, and no authority to hire a ‘special adviser’ to do so,” the letter states.

The decision to suspend James and Lenz was “improper” and “hasty and uninformed,” the lawyer argues, while demanding MLAs overturn the suspension and return the two men to active duty.

But it’s doubtful that will happen, as the governing NDP rallies around the Speaker.

Government house leader Mike Farnworth insisted the suspension­s were approved on the basis of legal advice.

“This is a serious matter and the appropriat­e course of action for all is to refrain from speculatio­n and allow the police to do their job,” Farnworth said.

And 78-year-old former attorney general Wally Oppal, suddenly brought in as a second “special adviser” for the Speaker, is also defending Plecas.

“The Speaker is a well-spoken, intelligen­t person with a great academic background and he didn’t do anything in a capricious way,” Oppal said.

But the opposition Liberals don’t see it that way.

Although the Liberals went along with Plecas’s original advice and voted to suspend James and Lenz, they’re now having second thoughts about the whole affair.

“This is turning into a much broader concern than we originally thought,” Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson told me.

“Has the Speaker gone rogue? These people’s lives have been put under scrutiny. They have been marched out under police escort, put into a car and humiliated.”

But if Wilkinson is so concerned, why did he and the rest of the Liberals vote to suspend James and Lenz in the first place?

“We didn’t have all the facts,” he said, noting they were unaware of Mullen’s role in the investigat­ion and uncertain of the legal basis for the suspension­s.

“Somehow we’ve got this amateur policeman in the Speaker’s office. In retrospect, perhaps we should have asked harder questions.”

Plecas’s judgment came under question after it was revealed he tried to get Mullen instated as the acting sergeant-at-arms to replace Lenz.

“It looks like we have a Speaker out of control,” Wilkinson said. “He’s retaining his own lawyers. He’s retaining his own investigat­ors. Those jobs are supposed to done by the police and the Ministry of the Attorney General.

“If we have a Speaker who has decided to run his own parallel government and his own little empire, we’ve got a huge problem on our hands.”

Wilkinson also insisted the Liberals didn’t know James and Lenz would be marched out of the building, escorted by police officers and Mullen in front of TV cameras.

“No one knew that was going to happen expect Mr. Mullen, who was accompanyi­ng them out and wanted to be in the video with them, at the behest of the Speaker.

“They are not the FBI. They are not the RCMP. They are not CSIS. They have no authority to be engaging in this kind of police activity.”

As you listen to these attacks on Plecas, keep this in mind: The Liberals hate his guts.

Plecas is a former Liberal MLA who stabbed his colleagues in the back when he took the Speaker’s job, giving the NDP an extra vote in the closely divided minority legislatur­e. The Liberals were so mad they kicked Plecas out of the party.

The New Democrats, on the other hand, need Plecas to stay right where he is and will not turn against him, especially since they just lost an NDP MLA in Nanaimo, where Leonard Krog is stepping down to become mayor.

The drama is going to escalate this week. The Liberals have demanded a meeting of the all-party committee that manages the legislativ­e assembly.

The committee is chaired by Plecas and you can bet the Liberals will attack him toothand-nail.

“There will be accountabi­lity,” Wilkinson vowed.

The stakes are very high. If this whole crazy affair somehow boomerangs against Plecas and forces him out of the Speaker’s chair, it could bring the whole government crashing down and force an early election.

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 ?? — CP FILES ?? Speaker Darryl Plecas was blasted by the Liberals for his handling of the suspension of sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk Craig James, which the Liberals had voted to support. The lawyer for Lenz and James also criticized Plecas.
— CP FILES Speaker Darryl Plecas was blasted by the Liberals for his handling of the suspension of sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk Craig James, which the Liberals had voted to support. The lawyer for Lenz and James also criticized Plecas.
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