Two senior officials at the centre of an alleged spending scandal that has rocked B.C. politics will remain on leave with pay pending an independent investigation.
An all-party committee that oversees the legislature made the decision Thursday, at the same meeting where Speaker Darryl Plecas brought forward a new report following up on allegations of misspending he made against Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz last month.
All three parties say these are serious issues that need further investigation.
That independent review will happen without the Speaker – Plecas says he doesn't want to be part of it going forward, because it’s time for him to take a step back.
Those involved also want to process to happen as quickly as possible. That could mean months or even weeks.
Lenz and James were suspended without warning back in November amid an alleged scandal that remained shrouded in mystery for some eight weeks before Plecas came forward with a bombshell 76-page report outlining allegations of "flagrant overspending" by the two senior staff members.
On Thursday, the Legislature Assembly Management Committee saw a second report from the Speaker following up on his initial allegations and released it publicly.
The RCMP is conducting its own investigation, and two special prosecutors have been assigned to the case. Previously, MLAs were concerned about releasing any information related to the scandal, but when asked what's changed, government House Leader, Mike Farnworth said, "The police investigation is underway. We have confidence in the legal advice that we have received that we are able to release the reports."
Lenz and James have strongly and repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. None of the allegations against them have been tested in court, and no charges have been laid.
Once the independent review is complete, it will be up to all 87 B.C. MLAs to decide what happens to James and Lenz. They could either be reinstated, terminated, suspended without pay, remain on suspension with pay. Craig James' salary tops $300K while Gary Lenz earns more than $200K.
"I believe that the two people who are under investigation shouldn't be here. I think I've been very clear in that in my first report, and I think you'll find by what I have to say in my second report that I couldn't have made that any clearer," said Plecas after the meeting.
At the same time, two other reviews are taking place – one looking into workplace practices and another combing through the legislature's books. The province's Auditor General Carol Bellringer will conduct the financial audit. A previous decision by the committee was to send it out of province.