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'Don't ask me to put my moral compass away': B.C. Speaker breaks silence over investigation
After months of silence, Darryl Plecas spoke about his investigation into expenses that has sent shockwaves through the B.C. Legislature, saying he knew something was wrong within the first 15 minutes of the job.
In his first comments publicly since his report was released Monday, the B.C. Speaker says he had to remove himself from – and denounce – the extravagance he saw so it didn't stain his own reputation.
He promised that the employees who had been let go for expressing concerns about practices at the legislature would be "made whole." He also expects his report will just be the first step, with an outside forensic audit of legislature spending already in the works.
"What I saw in 18 months is just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "We need a forensic audit. A very extensive one."
His report details allegations against the Clerk of the Legislature, Craig James, and the Sergeant-at-Arms, Gary Lenz. Among the allegations are that the pair spent thousands of dollars of public money on suits, booze and personal travel.
The report describes $13,000 spent on a wood splitter and tool trailer that ended up at James' house, and a $257,000 retirement allowance that went to James, even though he didn't retire.
It also explores the actions of an MLA who, according to the report, claimed for taxi receipts and also claimed for mileage – claims that have led for calls by Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver to have Linda Reid resign as Deputy Assistant Speaker.
Plecas described the feeling of the first time he suspected something was wrong.
"I was standing in front of my executive assistant. I noticed there was a jug of water, ice bucket and flowers. And I open the cabinet and it's filled with all kinds of booze. And there's a very expensive bottle of scotch. And she says, 'if that's not good enough for you, Mr. Speaker, we'll make sure it's properly stocked…
"Having alcohol, expensive alcohol paid for by taxpayers, that's so fundamentally wrong…
"At every turn, travelling, I loved to stay in nice places, but I've never stayed in a $700 a night hotel before I was elected. And the general view of it was, the best way I could describe it is, 'Who cares what it cost.'"
He said that as a Liberal MLA, he also had concerns about the Liberal government during their time in power. Those concerns, he said, without giving specifics, could have resulted in the loss of his "top secret" security clearance.
"I’ve had that a long time and I’m not giving that up for a political reason. Because that makes a statement about me. I knew if I continued what I was doing I might have to give it up," he said.
When CTV News asked him if he was referring to the expense claims at the Speaker’s office, he said, "Not just that expense but before that. I’ll be quite blunt about that. That’s why I left the Liberal Party."
"There are things required that you put the party first. That doesn't work for me. Don't ask me to put my moral compass away. I'm not going to do it," he said.
He had harsh words for the media and for the people pushing the idea that his investigation was somehow politically motivated. He didn't name specific individuals, but Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson told CTV News in December that the investigation was a farce.
"It's been extremely hard on my family. I can't tell you how difficult it's been. People are looking at me like I'm a cancer on society. I'm thinking, 'Where are you getting your information?"