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The Plecas Papers: Key Allegations of a Speaker-Turned-Whistleblower

In coming days, we’ll learn how many of Darryl Plecas’s pages and pages of claims are true.

By Tyee Staff 22 Jan 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Last month, Darryl Plecas, the former BC Liberal MLA-turned Speaker, said he’d resign if citizens weren’t sickened by legislature spending abuses.

And Monday, he released the results of his investigation on the alleged behaviour of Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz.

None of the claims are proven, and James and Lenz responded with a strong denial, saying time will show the claims to be “completely false and untrue.”

You can read the whole report here.

Or, read this Tyee condensed version of key excerpts from the report.

The summary

“What I have observed at this stage, and been informed of, includes, but is not limited to, the following:

The early days

“There were some aspects of my new trappings which I immediately found to be surprising. On my first day as Speaker, I was being shown around my new office by the executive assistant to the Speaker who had worked there for many years. There was a jug of water, a bucket filled with ice and fresh flowers sitting on a cabinet and I was advised that the water and ice would be refreshed twice a day and the flowers replaced every other week. I opened the cabinet and saw that it was full of liquor. Looking at the bottles, I recognized one of them and remarked, ‘gee, that’s an expensive bottle of scotch.’ My new assistant said, ‘Mr. Speaker, you can have any kind you want if that is not good enough.’ Later that evening I looked in the cabinets outside my personal office in the main area and discovered that there were two more cabinets also filled with liquor. It had been my previous experience that the government does not pay for alcohol for staff or Members’ personal consumption, so this was surprising to me.”

First trip to England

“A few weeks into my first session, Mr. James told me that when the session ended in December, he, Mr. Lenz and I needed to go to the United Kingdom for various meetings, including one with MI5 (the U.K.’s Security Service), as well as to procure an official Speaker’s hat for me. He told me that his office was arranging everything.

“Our accommodation was the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, a very expensive hotel across the river from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

“In the next few days, we had a series of meetings which all seemed to be of a ‘meet-and-greet’, introductory nature… While in London, we attended Ede & Ravenscroft, which is a historic and expensive store that makes ceremonial robes for parliamentary officers, members of the House of Lords, and the legal profession, but also sells a wide variety of suits and formal wear for men as well as more casual men’s clothing. There we ordered a new Speaker’s hat, but while we were there, Mr. James and Mr. Lenz browsed in the rest of the store.

“We returned to that store a second time and Mr. James tried on various suits. He and Mr. Lenz purchased various items and asked the store to ship them back to Victoria. While there, Mr. Lenz quipped to me that it was all ‘part of the uniform,’ which I suspected was an implication that they intended to expense all of the items to the Legislative Assembly. I have since confirmed that what Mr. James and Mr. Lenz purchased included a navy-coloured suit and cufflinks, which were in fact expensed to the Legislative Assembly. The suit cost £662.50, or $1,157.26.

“On Wednesday, December 6, we flew to Edinburgh, Scotland. Again we were lodged in an expensive hotel. We went shopping at the Scottish Parliament gift shop where Mr. Lenz commented that he needed to purchase a gift for his wife, and then proceeded to purchase cufflinks, a women’s brooch, a trinket box, a tie and a scarf. I have since learned that all of those items were expensed to the Legislative Assembly, under the heading of ‘miscellaneous uniform items’, at a cost of $160.13…

“Throughout the trip, I was very surprised at how luxuriously we were travelling and how little we were doing for a work trip. However, I did not take an issue with it at the time because I was still new to the Speaker’s job.”

The alcohol

“In approximately late May 2018, I was talking to Mr. Lenz and he recounted to me another matter involving Mr. James: that in the summer of 2013 there was an incident where the Clerk had (according to Mr. Lenz) instructed three legislative employees to load his pick-up truck with more than $10,000 worth of liquor that had been purchased by the Legislative Assembly. Mr. Lenz said Mr. James subsequently returned for a second trip and loaded more liquor, along with a Legislative Chamber desk, chair and various personal items belonging to Bill Barisoff, whose term as Speaker had recently come to an end. Mr. Lenz said he had been told by others that Mr. James was going to deliver those items to Mr. Barisoff’s house in the Okanagan.

“Mr. Lenz also told me that he was concerned that following the resignation of Christy Clark as Premier, the Facilities Manager had asked Mr. James what to do with a variety of items that were in the Premier’s vault. Mr. James had apparently gone to inspect the vault with the Facilities Manager, removed some coins and a scroll which he commented were very expensive, and directed the rest of the items from the Premier’s vault to be placed into the Clerk’s vault. Mr. Lenz told me he had suspicions that Mr. James had taken the coins and the scroll from the Legislative Assembly for his own purposes.

“I said that it seemed to me there ought to be a proper forensic audit of Legislative Assembly’s inventory and expenses or perhaps a police investigation. Mr. Lenz replied, ‘we do not want an audit; the last thing we want is an audit and we don’t want to get outside police involved.’ I found that comment troubling.

“Mr. Lenz went on to propose how he thought Mr. James should be removed from office. He said words to the effect that what was needed was to ‘build a case on certain issues’, that I would then present to Mr. James and cause him to realize that he could face serious consequences. Mr. Lenz proposed that the suggestion would then be made to Mr. James that he should ‘go quietly’ and resign. In the alternative, Mr. Lenz suggested that I could ask the Premier to tell Mr. James that his services were no longer required because the government was ‘moving in another direction’, and Mr. James could then, ‘leave on a high note, with a huge payout and a retirement party, all of which would allow us to avoid an audit and any investigations’. I said I would have to think about it, but what I was actually thinking was that it was looking more and more like the Legislative Assembly needed an audit and an investigation.”

Back to the U.K.

“My second trip to the U.K. took place from August 1 to 13, 2018. Also on the trip were Mr. James, Mr. Lenz and their wives. The primary purpose of the trip was to observe an anti-terrorism exercise conducted by MI5. It had again been arranged by the Clerk’s office. Prior to leaving, Mr. Lenz said repeatedly to me that he felt there was no legitimate basis whatsoever for Mr. James to go to the exercise, as he did not have security responsibilities. He said that he thought the only reason Mr. James was going was because Mr. James’ son lives in London and so he and his wife were really just going on a holiday. I was reluctant to go on this trip because of my concerns about Mr. James and Mr. Lenz. I took advice from others on the matter and it was suggested that, rather than risk offending our contacts in the U.K. by cancelling, it would be more useful to go…

“Two events worthy of note occurred in London. First, on one afternoon, Mr. Lenz, Mr. James and I returned to the men’s clothing store, Ede & Ravenscroft, where my hat had been purchased. Mr. James and I each decided to buy the same grey suit, which we did. They each cost approximately $1,000. I paid for my suit separately. When Mr. James was at the till, Mr. Lenz was there as well and he quipped to Mr. James, ‘part of the uniform.’ After we left the store, Mr. James said to me that I should provide him with the receipt because they would claim the suits as part of the Legislative Assembly budget for ‘uniforms,’ which they were plainly not. I said that I would be paying for mine… I have since reviewed the expense claims and see that Mr. James claimed his suit as an expense and also wrote on the receipt that the suit he purchased was black rather than grey, presumably to support a claim that it was part of his Legislative Assembly attire (which is a gown, vest, black-striped or grey-pinstriped pants, and tabs; not a suit).

“A second episode that troubled me was when the three of us were in the Houses of Parliament Gift Shop at the Palace of Westminster. I was looking at the watches with Mr. Lenz and commented, ‘those are nice watches’, and he replied to me wryly, ‘part of the uniform’. Mr. James and Mr. Lenz purchased some items from the store, but I didn’t see what they were. After we returned to British Columbia, I found an attractive watch on my desk that said ‘House of Commons’ on it, which was clearly from the gift store at Westminster. I did not ask for this ‘gift’, nor did I ask, or permit, Mr. James to claim for reimbursement for the expense of this watch, which it appears he did.”

‘Specific issues of concern’

“Some of the events discussed below involve payments or liabilities worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Other amounts, such as those detailed relating to gift-buying, extra hotel nights, unrecorded vacations and additional mileage may appear small in isolation, but their cumulative effect is substantial.…

“It should be noted at the outset that there is no suggestion that these expenses were not signed off or otherwise approved. However, that in itself may illustrate an overarching concern; namely, that expenses which appear to have no conceivable business rationale could still be formally approved under prevailing systems…

“In December 2017, Mr. James was reimbursed for $658.45 for a waterproof camera (two days later, he was reimbursed for $78.39 for a camera case). From the same store, he also claimed in March 2018 for memory cards ($515.18) and in July 2018 for a tripod ($800.78).

“In June 2017, Mr. James was reimbursed $504.44 for the purchase of Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones…

“In February and September 2018, Mr. James was reimbursed a total of $966.84 for clothing purchased at Brooks Brothers including seven dress shirts and a tie…”

Vacation payouts

“Multiple witnesses with relevant first-hand knowledge informed the Speaker that both Mr. James and Mr. Lenz make a regular practice of receiving payment in lieu of their vacation days. Witnesses also stated that Mr. James and Mr. Lenz appeared to regularly take time off and holidays, but often do not record these as official vacation days. In Mr. James’ case, for example, it was observed by a number of witnesses that he was rarely to be seen at work on Fridays.

“A review of relevant records confirms that Mr. James and Mr. Lenz record almost no official vacation – and in Mr. Lenz’s case, there have been years in which he has taken zero officially-recorded holidays, and instead been paid out in lieu for the entirety of his vacation days.

“This practice effectively means both Mr. James and Mr. Lenz have regularly received unbudgeted cash bonuses. These have ranged from thousands to several tens of thousands of dollar per year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they have been consistently been approved.”

A $257,000 retirement allowance

“The most comprehensive analysis of the Retirement Allowance to date appears to have been conducted in January 2014 by the Legislative Assembly’s then-Director of Human Resources, Jo-Anne Kern, following the publication of the John Doyle audit report and at the request of then-Speaker Linda Reid. Although it did not draw any legal conclusions, its summary of the relevant history of the scheme, and the supporting documents it attaches, suggest that Mr. James’ receipt of and entitlement to the $257,000 payment (a) was based on an extremely generous interpretation of the history and purpose of the scheme, vis-à-vis Mr. James; (b) ought to have been, at a minimum, supported by some formally-documented analysis indicating on what basis it arose; and (c) required and depended on the acquiescence of the Speaker in 2012, Mr. Barisoff.

“It is not clear what, if any, action was taken by Speaker Reid after receiving Ms. Kern’s report. However, beyond the substantive issues raised in Ms. Kern’s report, it is concerning that the report itself appears to have been either not placed on file, or removed, from the Legislative Assembly’s records. Ms. Kern’s understanding is that her report was placed in the Speaker’s vault. By the time the present Speaker took office, it was no longer there.”

The wood-splitter

“The Speaker received information that a wood-splitter and work/tools trailer were purchased by the Legislative Assembly, but never arrived on site and instead were delivered directly to Mr. James’ personal residence where they have allegedly been used by Mr. James and Mr. Lenz for their own purposes.

“Documentary corroboration of the report is found in the receipts for these pieces of equipment for $3,200.91 and $10,029.60 respectively, and receipts for their insurance with ICBC. On the receipt for the wood splitter it is indicated that it was to be picked up by ‘Craig.’ On Dec. 4, 2018, Mr. James’ lawyers, Fasken Martineau, wrote to the Speaker and advised that Mr. James wished to deliver the wood-splitter to the Legislative Assembly.

“The RCMP intervened and now have possession of the wood splitter. The trailer was not at the Legislative Precinct as of Nov. 20, 2018, but the Speaker understands from Facilities and Maintenance staff that it subsequently materialized, parked in the parking lot, without any indication of how it arrived there.

“From the Speaker’s inquiries, he understands the justification for the Legislative Assembly purchasing the wood-splitter was that if a crisis situation befell the Legislative Assembly and if in the course of that crisis a tree fell on the Legislature grounds, there could be a need to split the tree up for firewood for use at the Legislature. The Speaker has difficulty accepting that rationale, as the scenario seems very remote, and in any event — even assuming external Emergency Services were not able to attend and handle this scenario — a chainsaw and axe would appear to suffice.

“Nevertheless, if there was any justification for its purchase, it is difficult to understand how it assisted the Legislative Assembly to have the machine at Mr. James’ house, being used for his personal purposes.

“The letter from Mr. James’ lawyers asserted that Mr. James was ‘holding’ the wood splitter, ‘as he had been advised by Legislative Facility Services that there was no room to store that item within the Legislative Precinct.’ That supposed rationale is surprising given the size of the Legislative Precinct, and if there was indeed no space to store it, then that begs the question of why it was purchased. The matter of the wood splitter and trailer ought to be enquired into further from an employment and workplace conduct perspective.”

Partisan or not?

“This Preliminary Report cannot, and does not purport to, draw conclusions as to whether Mr. James is partisan. However, it is undoubtedly the case that he is seen to be by some people, and appearances are important….

“Multiple witnesses (including Mr. Lenz,) have informed the Speaker of their view that Mr. James was aligned with the BC Liberals…”  [Tyee]

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