Speaker's chief of staff defends travel expenses amid legislature spending scandal
As he responded to an audit finding financial controls at the B.C. Legislature were lacking, the chief of staff to Speaker Darryl Plecas also explained why – from one year to the next, travel costs in the Speaker's office had tripled.
"Every single dollar is explainable,” Alan Mullen told CTV News in an exclusive interview.
In the first full year under Darryl Plecas – 2018-19 - travel spending soared from $19,188 to $60,947, according to numbers compiled by the Auditor General’s office. 2017 was an election year, which cut the spring session short. There was a short session after the election, with Steve Thompson as Speaker. Plecas became Speaker later that year.
Here’s how travel costs for 2018-19 in the Speaker’s office break down:
- $26,685 for the Speaker’s out-of-province travel
- $31,759 paid to Alan Mullen for travel
- $2,502 paid for travel related to the Speaker’s forum
Mullen said his travel costs came while he was living on the mainland.
“The speaker and I sat down and ultimately decided, 'Look, this is not the most cost effective way of doing it,' and the decision was made, good or bad or right or wrong, for me to move to Victoria to eliminate that cost.”
Financial reports presented to a committee responsible for oversight of the legislature show repeatedly in notes that the Speaker’s office could go over budget due to an increase in employee travel.
Jackie Tegart, a Liberal MLA who sits on the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which has oversight for the affairs of the precinct, said she would like to see a proactive approach to disclosing such expenses from the Speaker’s office.
“The Speaker is the person who would sign off on that and obviously he accepts that as an explanation," Tegart said. "I think as taxpayers we would expect that Mr. Mullen be very accountable.”
All this comes after Plecas raised concerns about spending at the legislature by top officials. Clerk Craig James and Sargeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were placed on leave last November amid reports of an RCMP investigation. Both men deny any wrongdoing.
Tegart added she’d like to see details about who was met with and what was discussed during trips. This summer Mullen took a trip to several jurisdictions in connection with a security review. He promised a full detailing of that was coming and the Speaker also committed to detailing travel in the top three offices, dating back up to 10 years to allow for a more fulsome comparison.
Mullen said he believed the focus on the Speaker’s travel took away from the work completed by the Auditor General’s office.
“There were no policies in place which essentially created a candy store of corruption," he said.
Mullen added he’d like the focus to be on the issues that need to be addressed to ensure proper financial controls are in place. Tegart insisted that work had been underway for years, yet did credit Plecas for raising some of the issues.
An RCMP investigation, a Police Act probe and a workplace review are still to come -- potentially uncovering even more issues to fix.