Speaker fires back at critics
Plecas says audit will vindicate move to investigate legislature officials
VICTORIA — The embattled Speaker of the legislature, Darryl Plecas, has put his political career on the line, promising to resign if new audits into alleged spending concerns at the capital building fail to back up the suspension of the building’s highest-ranking officials.
Plecas lashed out at critics Thursday during an extraordinary meeting with MLAs, delivering an angry defence of his role and that of his aide Alan Mullen in an investigation that resulted last month in the suspension and RCMP investigation of clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.
“Every single thing he did and I did leading up to giving police information was done not well, but perfectly,” Plecas told the all-party legislative management committee, which includes Green, NDP and Liberal MLAs.
Plecas at first refused to outline the allegations against James and Lenz, but about halfway through the tense hour-long meeting he abruptly announced that he would reconvene MLAs in mid-January where he would reveal his “serious concerns” about financial matters in the building and request an immediate audit into how public money has been spent in the offices of the Speaker, clerk and sergeant-at-arms.
“I am completely confident that those audits will show that we have a lot of work to do here,” said Plecas.
“And if the outcome of those audits did not outrage the public, did not outrage taxpayers, did not make them throw up, I will resign as Speaker. And Mr. Mullen will resign as well.
“This has gone on far enough. I’ve been reduced to a cartoon character.”
Lenz and James have said they still do not know what they are accused of doing, but their reputations were destroyed when Mullen had them escorted out of the building by police on Nov. 20. No charges have been laid against the men.
It became clear during the hour-long meeting that at least some of Plecas’s allegations relate to spending inside the legislature, which has an annual $80-million budget for services like the library, security, parliamentary education and restaurant services.
Plecas also revealed a longer timeline, saying that the issue he’s identified “needs to be fixed. And it needs to be fixed through the Speaker’s office because it hasn’t been fixed for years.” If true, such a timeline could involve previous Speakers and staff.
It’s unclear if the mid-January meeting and audits that Plecas promised will happen. NDP house leader Mike Farnworth repeatedly said during the meeting that it would be inappropriate to say anything during the RCMP investigation, as did Green house leader Sonia Furstenau.
Plecas’s legal adviser, former attorney general and judge Wally Oppal, who has urged Plecas to say nothing while police investigate, sat in the public gallery and watched expressionless during the meeting.
Plecas, a criminologist and former professor, bristled at a situation he said has “degenerated into a circus.” He took particular issue with the term “investigation,” saying he simply did due diligence on concerns he identified shortly after becoming Speaker in September 2017. However, both Mullen and Oppal have described it as an “investigation.”
“All I’m saying as an elected official, ‘Oh I think there’s something wrong here,’ ” he said.
House Speaker Darryl Plecas answers questions from the opposition during a legislative assembly management committee meeting in the Douglas Fir room at Legislature on Thursday.