Speaker fires back at crit­ics

Ple­cas says au­dit will vin­di­cate move to in­ves­ti­gate leg­is­la­ture of­fi­cials

The Province - - NEWS - ROB SHAW [email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/rob­shaw_­van­sun

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.

— THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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