Before he wrote an investigation containing concerns of the Liberal leanings of a suspended legislature clerk, the B.C. Speaker wrote about an alleged plan by the Liberal party to turn another non-partisan position to political advantage.
In a 2017 release that was drafted but never sent, Darryl Plecas says his “final straw” with the Liberal party was a plan to fire constituency office assistants and replace them with a plan to “bring down the NDP.”
“Though I was never comfortable with Ms. (Christy) Clark’s approach to leadership, the final straw came when at our last caucus meeting she instructed all B.C. Liberal MLAs to get rid of any non-partisan constituency assistants that were on our staff and to replace them with staff members who would willingly engage in political activities in order to bring down the NDP,” Plecas is quoted as saying.
The Speaker planned to announce that day he was resigning from the Liberal caucus, shortly after the party was replaced by an NDP government supported by the Greens.
Instead, it was former Liberal leader Clark who resigned the next day. Plecas went on in September to become the Speaker, giving the NDP a more dependable majority in in the legislature. For that, he was kicked out of the party.
The unsent press release, first reported by The Breaker, is the latest political dimension to an expenses scandal that has sent shockwaves through Victoria and is now playing a high-profile role in a high-stakes byelection in Nanaimo.
The Speaker’s special advisor, Alan Mullen, said his boss was referring to that event when he said on Wednesday, “Don’t ask me to put my moral compass away.”
“He said, ‘Look, I can’t do this anymore. This is not right. I’m not comfortable with this leadership style,” Mullen said.
No one from the Liberal party was available for an interview. The party’s caucus chair tweeted out that “We are staunch defenders of non-partisan constituency offices.”
Hours after CTV News reached out to the Liberals to hear their response to the allegations in the press release, the party fired back, with documents alleging the NDP government was spending some $127,300 of public money to renovate constituency offices so that partisan staff could use them as offices.
“In most cases, the idea was to put someone out there to work on politics, not case work,” the premier’s chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, said in a Sept. 17, 2017 email released through a Freedom of Information request to Liberal staff.
The change was first reported in 2017. A version of the email in a document released by FOI appeared to have that statement censored on the grounds of policy advice, suggesting a different source for the Liberals’ document.
In Nanaimo, the expenses scandal was heard on the doorsteps of voters, according to the NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson.
“People are talking about it. I’m hearing it everywhere. People are disgusted,” she said.
In his bombshell report, Plecas alleges “flagrant” overspending by senior officers of the legislature. Among them: $500 earphones, a $1,000 suitcase and the $13,000 tool trailer and wood splitter.
Plecas’s report said the clerk, Craig James, visited Liberal-connected people far more often than NDP members on trips where he spent $11,000 on a VIP ferry reservation called “assured boarding” rather than the usual $10 reservation fee per trip.
However, Plecas did not go as far as saying James is a partisan operative.
“It is essential that the Clerk of the House is and is seen to be a non-partisan role," the Speaker wrote.
"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.”
An RCMP investigation is ongoing into the issue, with two special prosecutors appointed. Both James and Gary Lenz, the sergeant-at-arms who was also suspended in November, have denied any wrongdoing.