B.C. Greens won’t support Lenz, James return to legislature in wake of report

B.C. Greens won't support Lenz, James return to legislature in wake of report

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver speaks to media on Jan. 22, 2019.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver speaks to media on Jan. 22, 2019.

British Columbia’s Green party will not support the return to the legislature of two senior officers after a report by the Speaker was released alleging spending abuses.

Andrew Weaver says the house leaders for the NDP, Liberals and Greens will consider their options for the futures of clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, but he would not support their return to work.

“To be blunt, I do not see how it is possible for our caucus to continue to have confidence in the clerk and the sergeant-at-arms if they were recommended to come back to the legislature,” Weaver told reporters on Tuesday.

A 76-page report by Speaker Darryl Plecas alleges spending by the two men on luxurious overseas trips, payout packages and personal purchases totalling millions of dollars. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Plecas said the report released Monday is based on what he had seen and heard at the legislature since being named Speaker in September 2017, and that he felt obligated to contact the RCMP.

“The allegations of the report point to a culture of entitlement and was, to be honest, sickening to read,” said Weaver, who thanked Plecas for his work on it.

“This took courage and a willingness to look out for the broader public interest.”

Lenz and James were suspended and escorted out of the legislature in November after it was announced the RCMP had begun an investigation, although details have not been released.

James and Lenz were not immediately available for comment Tuesday, but in a statement Monday they said they only just learned of the report’s contents and the allegations will be shown to be untrue. Until the report was released, James and Lenz said they did not know what they were accused of doing.

“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,” said their statement. “To be publicly accused of these things after months of secret investigation without being given any chance to respond is contrary to all principles of fairness and decent treatment.”

The report was released by the legislative assembly management committee, which gave James and Lenz until Feb. 1 to respond.

The RCMP says it is aware of the release of Plecas’s report and its investigation is ongoing.

Plecas sits an Independent in the legislature after he was expelled from the Liberal caucus when he took the Speaker’s job, helping the NDP to form a minority government.

The report alleges overspending on trips overseas with questionable business rationales; expensing of personal purchases to the legislature in the tens of thousands of dollars; inappropriate payouts of cash in lieu of vacation in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and instances where thousands of dollars of alcohol and equipment may have been misappropriated from the legislative assembly.

One of the allegations made in the report involves the legislature’s purchase of a wood-splitting device and trailer that it says ended up at James’s home. The report says the RCMP took the wood splitter and trailer last year.

In the report, Plecas says he was told the trailer and wood splitter were bought by the legislature in case they were needed in a crisis.

“Why do we need a wood splitter?” Weaver asked on Tuesday.

Plecas is chairman of the legislative assembly management committee, which also includes four NDP, two Liberal and one Green member of the legislature. It voted Monday to release the report, conduct a workplace review and ask an auditor from outside B.C. to review legislature financial issues.

Attorney General David Eby said the two men should have the opportunity to respond to the report.

“I think that most people who read the read the report shared my feeling that it contains some very disturbing allegations and, more broadly, raised concerns about controls within the legislative assembly and the lack of oversight,” he said at an event in Vancouver.

Police and two special prosecutors assigned to the case continue their work, he added.

“I’ve encouraged all members of the legislature to avoid speculating and to avoid comment that could potentially impact that investigation,” Eby said.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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