New police act probe may come to B.C. legislature: notes
House Speaker Darryl Plecas looks on during a Legislative Assembly Management Committee meeting in the Douglas Fir room at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Chad Hipolito / The Canadian Press)
Notes released of a private meeting by the B.C. Liberal House Leader appear to show the province's crusading Speaker pushing to add another investigation into the expense scandal that is still consuming the legislature -- one under the Police Act.
The notes suggest the RCMP investigation is also moving along, with Speaker Darryl Plecas telling house leaders the RCMP have found "19 different charge areas," as he defends his decision to copy three hard drives belonging to senior staff in the Legislature.
"I have a duty," Plecas is recorded saying in the notes. "You can imagine what's going to go on when this goes to court…It's not okay to throw those 18 whistleblowers under the bus."
Over a dozen whistleblowers came forward during Plecas's original investigation, some claiming they had been removed from their staff positions at the B.C. Legislature for raising concerns about wasteful spending.
Plecas's report accused Legislature Clerk Craig James of lavish trips, taking a $258,000 retirement allowance he wasn't entitled to and spending taxpayer money on personal items such as luggage and suits. He also accused Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz of misconduct.
Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin cleared Lenz, and found James had committed misconduct with around $265,000 in taxpayer money.
The notes of yesterday's meeting were taken by B.C. Liberal House Leader Mary Polak, and released to the media to explain why the party, which holds 42 of 87 seats in the legislature, had lost confidence in Plecas.
The Liberals pointed to a decision by the Speaker's office to copy three hard drives to secure evidence, and a meeting where, according to them, Acting Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd left in tears.
"What I witnessed in that meeting was bullying," said Polak.
"We're seeing a chaotic, aggressive approach to staff in this building. We're seeing a witch hunt," B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said.
In the notes, Plecas appears to deride the conclusions by former Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin as "pathetic" and "way down the scale" – something his chief of staff Alan Mullen told CTV News Vancouver was a sign of how disappointed he was in the scope of the investigation, not a personal attack.
"Disappointment, yes. Nothing personal against Justice McLachlin. The level of respect he has for her is off the charts," Mullen said.
A Police Act investigation would likely target any member of a police agency. The Legislature has an independent force headed by the Sergeant-at-Arms.
The RCMP is investigating the expenses, overseen by two special prosecutors. The Legislature is also under an audit and a workplace review.
Late Thursday, most B.C. Liberal MLAs spoke out against the Speaker, rising on a point of personal privilege to accuse him of contempt.
"I have become aware of behaviour and conduct undertaken by the Speaker with respect to senior officers and employees of this Legislative Assembly that I believe to be improper and compromises the ability of those officers to independently perform their duties," one statement read.
"I have further become aware of activities undertaken by the Speaker, including the seizure of records, including electronic records, that I believe constitute improper conduct with respect to my rights as a member of this assembly… I wish to disassociate myself for all purposes, including any subsequent litigation from these actions, which I believe constitute a breach from these actions, which I believe constitute a breach of the individual and collective privileges of this House and contempt for this House," another statement reads.
Most Liberal MLAs left their seats, leaving the governing NDP and their Green Party supporters to be the only ones left to adjourn the house.
It's not clear what impact such a statement would have; earlier in the day, the premier expressed confidence in the Speaker, and legislature rules say the Speaker can decide on his own to stay on in the job, until he quits or loses an election.
Earlier in the day, B.C. Green Party House Leader Sonia Furstenau told reporters she was uncomfortable with Polak's decision to share the notes.
"I don't believe it was appropriate to release notes from a private meeting," she said.