B.C. legislature clerk retires; report says benefits wrongly claimed

VICTORIA — A spending scandal that shook British Columbia’s legislature came to a partial conclusion Thursday with the abrupt retirement of the clerk and the suspended sergeant-at-arms asking for his job back after a report by a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Beverley McLachlin, appointed last March to probe overspending allegations against clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, concluded James engaged in misconduct, but Lenz did not.

She also noted in her report there was a “lack of clarity” in authority over expenses and administrative matters that were at the heart of her investigation of Lenz and James, the top two administration officials at the legislature.

New Democrat House Leader Mike Farnworth told the legislature Thursday that James has retired with a “non-financial” settlement.

“We have all worked very hard, together, and it has not been on the basis of partisanship or anything like that other than to do what’s right, and what’s in the best interest of this institution,” said Farnworth at a joint news conference with house leaders from the Green and Liberal parties.

The NDP government said in its throne speech last February the spending scandal shook public trust in the legislature and the government will implement “reforms that restore trust in this core institution.”

Both James and Lenz were suspended last November amid allegations of receiving improper benefits and expensing spending on personal items, which they have denied.

McLachlin’s report found four of five administrative allegations against James were substantiated, while she said Lenz did not engage in misconduct. Farnworth says Lenz will remain on paid leave, while the search for a new clerk will begin this month.

McLachlin says James engaged in misconduct in expense claims for suits, luggage and a private life insurance premium for himself.

Her report says he engaged in misconduct by directing the creation of three benefits for his personal advantage: the 2012 retirement benefit, the 2018 resignation benefit and the death benefit proposed in a 2017 letter.

She says James also took alcohol from the legislative precinct without accounting for it and kept a wood splitter and its trailer under his personal control, in the face of clear consensus that there is no reason for the equipment not to be at the legislature.

McLachlin’s report only looked at the administrative allegations made by Speaker Darryl Plecas in a report he released in January.

The Speaker alleged that Lenz and James engaged in inappropriate spending on personal items and foreign trips. His report also alleged inappropriate vacation pay outs and retirement allowances.

An RCMP investigation continues with the help of two special prosecutors.

James said in a statement that he has been in public service for more than four decades and has fond memories of his time at the legislature, but he has now “had enough.”

“I have been publicly ridiculed and vilified. My family has been deeply hurt and continues to suffer humiliation. In an effort to put an end to that, I have decided to retire, and reach a settlement with the legislative assembly,” he said.

He added that when the allegations were disclosed to him, he provided detailed written submissions and supporting documents to the legislative assembly, but many of them are not referred to or addressed in McLachlin’s report.

“I believe the public has a right to see those submissions and documents, so they can know and understand the whole picture and judge the truth of these matters for themselves,” he said.

Lenz told a news conference that McLachlin’s report cleared him of misconduct allegations and he asked to be reinstated but was told he is still the subject of a police investigation.

“I greatly respect the fair and independent process that has been in place. I am confident there will be no findings of wrongdoing,” he told reporters gathered in his backyard.

Lenz said he holds no ill will for what has happened over the past seven months, but added it has been ”brutal.”

“It was devastating,” he said.

He has yet to be interviewed by police but Lenz said he’ll answer the questions they have.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” Lenz said.

Plecas said he was happy with the conclusions of the report.

“I think it says that the issues I had raised were accurate. I mean, of course, it’s not everything. But I’m reminded that her terms of reference were very narrow. So there’s a number of things which weren’t considered.”

Farnworth told the legislature that McLachlin noted several policy areas that it needs to consider. The three party house leaders accepted all of her recommendations and Farnworth said he has tabled a status report detailing “considerable efforts” already undertaken by staff to address those issues.

McLachlin’s report says there was a lack of clarity over who had the authority for the administrative matters at the legislature. Legislation indicates the office of the Speaker has control, but in practice the clerk seems to hold that authority, it says.

The report says vacation entitlement policies and practices, expenses, travel and benefits all need to be clarified for staff, and the legislature may also want to put a formal policy in place for the management of alcohol purchases.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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