Premier John Horgan said Tuesday he regrets the way two top bureaucrats at the legislature were suspended from their duties last week.
Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were placed on administrative leave on Nov. 20 after a motion put forward by Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. Both senior officials were escorted out of the building, James by a Victoria police officer.
"I wish that had not happened as it unfolded," Horgan said. "I want to assure people that, although this is a very difficult time for all of us in the legislature, we will get through this and we're all hopeful the investigation in whatever form it takes is completed as quickly as possible."
The premier made that admission as he tried to end the fall session touting the many things his minority government had accomplished, but questions kept coming back to the shroud of secrecy around James and Lenz's suspensions and the criminal probe into their actions. Nearly a week after they were suddenly sent home, James and Lenz told reporters Monday they still have no idea why they're being investigated by the RCMP.
Meanwhile, tempers flared in the legislature Tuesday, Abbotsford West MLA Mike De Jong taking the unprecedented step of directly questioning Speaker Darryl Plecas and calling for clarification about the nature of the suspensions.
"These are extraordinary circumstances and the answer is 'Let's wait a couple of weeks.' This is outrageous, Mr. Speaker, and I call upon you to discharge your authority and responsibility and call the meeting," the MLA said.
On Wednesday, special adviser to Plecas, Alan Mullen, confirmed the allegations against the clerk and sergeant-at-arms date back until at least January.
According to the B.C. Prosecution Service, two special prosecutors were appointed to the case following a request from the RCMP on Sept. 28. Days later, David Butcher and Brock Martland were appointed to provide police with legal advice during the investigation.
In a scathing letter sent to house leaders on Friday, however, James and Lenz's lawyers said "the Speaker has no constitutional authority to carry out an investigation of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly or the Sergeant-at-Arms" and no authority to hire advisers to do so.
Attorneys at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin called for their clients to be placed back on active duty, citing an "absence of cogent facts" to prove that they can't do their jobs while the investigation is ongoing.
"Unless there is something specific in the facts allegedly brought to light in this case that makes it impossible for Mr. James or Mr. Lenz to carry out their duties, the only way that the injustice now unfolding from the passage of the motion can be mitigated pending the outcome of the investigation, and public confidence restored, is for the motion to be rescinded," the letter read.
The speaker, who acts as referee between two sides of the legislature, is critical to a minority government keen on to avoid another election. Instead, Plecas is now under attack and clouded in controversy for his part in suspending the two senior officials.
And with the legislature session now over, politicians are leaving Victoria with few answers about the dramatic events of the past week.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Penny Daflos