Former Speaker paid just $370 for 'truckloads' of taxpayer-funded booze: new Plecas report
Published Thursday, February 21, 2019 5:00PM PST Last Updated Thursday, February 21, 2019 6:53PM PST
The former Speaker of the B.C. Legislature paid just $370 for two truckloads of alcohol that were loaded into the clerk’s truck and delivered to him, alleges a new report from current Speaker Darryl Plecas.
And there’s no good reason why the most senior and highest paid officer of the Legislature, Clerk Craig James, should have taken two working days to drive the truck up to Bill Barisoff in Penticton, staying at a hotel along the way, the report says.
“That amount of money certainly does not accord with the accounts of two truckloads of alcohol that were loaded into Mr. James’ truck and which included beer and hard liquor,” Plecas writes.
“The value of the alcohol Mr. Barisoff purchased from the Legislative Assembly was only a fraction of the cost of Mr. James making the trip. To my mind, both as Speaker and as a taxpayer, this is unacceptable,” Plecas writes.
Plecas’s new report was delivered to a legislature committee on Thursday afternoon, containing a response to claims made by the suspended officers, but also going into more depth, as clearly the investigation by him and his chief of staff continues.
“I categorically deny taking $10,000 of liquor to Mr. Barisoff, or otherwise,” wrote James. “What I do remember is that, along with a desk and a chair that had been presented to him, and other personal effects, I took some amount of alcohol to Mr. Barisoff’s house (certainly not $10,000 worth) in the Okanagan when I was scheduled to meet with him on Legislative Assembly matters.
“I remember that Mr. Barisoff provided a cheque for the alcohol, payable to the Legislative Assembly. It should be in the records, which are unavailable to me,” James said.
Reached on Thursday, Barisoff told CTV News he didn’t want to address this while the legislature is deliberating.
“I’ve been advised not to make any comments while it’s in the Legislature Assembly Management Committee,” he said. “I just don’t want to make any comments now, OK?”
Plecas says he “cannot fathom” what business of the Legislature would call for the clerk to use work days to travel to Penticton or Vancouver, where he had lunch meetings with former premier Christy Clark.
“Even suspending disbelief and assuming these meetings were for legitimate work purposes, I do not see why they could not have been handled by phone or e-mail,” he wrote.
Plecas also alleged there may have been furniture from the legislature also loaded in the truck in 2013: a desk and a chair. There was a program to buy an old chair in the legislature for $50 each. But there was no similar replacement program for chamber desks – which cost $10,000 to replace, his report says.
“Only the Clerk or the Speaker would have the overriding authority to approve the gift of a Chamber desk,” Plecas writes.
In 2013, Barisoff retired as Speaker and was succeded by Linda Reid, a BC Liberal MLA from Richmond. She faces her own questions about double-billing mileage and taxi fares, and was replaced as deputy speaker earlier this month.
Plecas also raises concerns about vacation days – which James and Lenz didn’t take, and billed taxpayers for.
“The House sits only 80 days each year. In between sessions, there would have been ample opportunity for Mr. James and Mr. Lenz to take holiday time,” Plecas writes.
“No one I have talked to observed Mr. James and Mr. Lenz working terribly hard. Mr. James evidently had time to drive alcohol around and pick up a work trailer."
“It’s my understanding that the Acting Clerk’s workload hasn’t increased all that much with duties that would have been previously undertaken by Mr. James. This speaks volumes,” Plecas added.