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'The bomb may yet to come' in legislature scandal, special advisor says
The bombshell allegations outlined in B.C. Speaker Darryl Plecas's 76-page report might be seen as a mere "hand grenade" once issues in the legislature come into full view, according to his special advisor.
One day after the report sent shockwaves throughout the provincial capital, Alan Mullen suggested the details released so far could be just the tip of the iceberg.
"Knowing what I know and knowing what the Speaker knows, in the grand scheme of things and what's coming down the pipe, we've got a lot more work to do as an office and as an institution," Mullen told reporters.
"This might just be a hand grenade, and the bomb may yet to come."
Mullen did not reference any further allegations involving Clerk of the Legislature Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, the two suspended officials at the centre of Plecas's report.
Both men have denied any wrongdoing since November, when they were marched out of the legislature in front of TV cameras. They released a statement Monday criticizing the Speaker for preparing his report without giving them a chance to respond to his concerns.
"We are only now able to read the allegations for the first time and we are confident that time will show that they are completely false and untrue," they said.
None of the allegations contained in Plecas's report have been proven.
Officials signed off on each other's expenses, Mullen says
The claims of overspending, double-dipping and luxurious overseas trips that were compiled by the Speaker amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and only date back 18 months. An out-of-province auditor is being brought in to fully assess the legislature's finances, though it's unclear how far back the audit will look.
Asked how the men were allegedly able to get those expenses approved time and again, Mullen suggested James and Lenz would sometimes approve claims for one another.
"Mr. James would sign off on Mr. Lenz's and vice-versa," he said.
The special advisor also addressed questions about Plecas's decision to join James and Lenz on overseas trips that the Speaker himself argued were of little value to the taxpayer.
Those included two trips to the U.K. and one to China. In his report, Plecas suggested he didn't know what he was getting into on the first trip to London in December 2017. By the time of their most recent trip, in August 2018, police had already started their own investigation, and Mullen said authorities advised Plecas to go and observe the other men.
"We consulted with police and our lawyer as to whether he should be going or not, and the advice was yes, you should go, there is a business continuity aspect to going," Mullen said.
Government must work to regain public's trust
Green Leader Andrew Weaver told reporters the stunning allegations have eroded the public's trust in government, and it will take hard work to regain it.
"I don't know who I can trust in the place anymore and frankly that is very, very troubling," he said.
Weaver pointed to a few of the more outrageous expenses highlighted in the report, including a luggage set from Hong Kong that cost more than $1,100 and a wood-splitter that was purportedly purchased for the legislature but allegedly delivered straight to James's residence.
"Let me put it this way: How many of you knew that we had a fireplace in the legislature that needed a wood-splitter?" Weaver said.
He applauded the Speaker for preparing the report and suggested the external auditor's findings will help officials begin the difficult task of proving the legislature is accountable to the public.
"B.C. has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. While we must still view all of these as allegations, if true it's absolutely abhorrent that individuals in charge of this public institution will be entitled to live lavishly with taxpayer money," Weaver said.
Criminal investigation still ongoing
The RCMP launched a criminal investigation last summer, and two special prosecutors were later appointed to oversee the probe.
Though it was triggered by concerns brought forward by Plecas, the investigation's focus and scope are unclear. On Tuesday, the B.C. Prosecution Service confirmed a case involving senior legislature staff is ongoing, but did not shine any light on its progress.
"As the matter is currently subject to an ongoing investigation, neither the BCPS nor the Special Prosecutors will comment further or release any additional information at this time," the BCPS said in an email.
In his report, Plecas said he felt compelled to contact Mounties because he felt it was possible a crime may have been committed.
James and Lenz have not addressed any of the allegations from the report directly, but said they will be providing “a detailed response in due course.”
Read the Speaker's full report below: