The New Democrats and Greens drew a long-serving member of the B.C. Liberal caucus into the controversy surrounding allegations of spending abuses at the legislature on Wednesday, calling on former Speaker Linda Reid to explain how expenses were accounted for.
Questions have been raised in a report written by Speaker Darryl Plecas about the spending of the legislature’s sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk Craig James during a time that Reid oversaw business in the house and the NDP and Greens asked for answers.
“Silence is not an option for her at this point in my view,” said Garry Begg, an NDP member of the legislature from Surrey. “She owes the people of B.C. an explanation. She should be able to answer what she knew, if she knew and what she did about it.”
Reid could not be reached for comment, but in a statement she said she will co-operate with any investigations.
“As the auditor conducts their investigation, I will make myself fully available,” says Reid, who was elected in 1991. “I will work with the auditor and any other investigators to ensure the protection of taxpayer dollars.”
Green Leader Andrew Weaver called on Reid to step aside as assistant deputy Speaker over allegations made by an unnamed whistleblower mentioned in Plecas’s report who raised concerns last February about the travel expenses of a member of the legislature. The report alleges the whistleblower was fired shortly after meeting with Lenz.
A man who told Global News he was the whistleblower could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. He told Global that Reid was the legislature member whose travel expenses he questioned.
Weaver said by coming forward publicly, the whistleblower has “shed light on the culture of entitlement that he allegedly witnessed” and that is why he is calling for Reid to step aside.
“Our focus at this time must be on restoring public trust in our democratic institutions. I cannot see how that is possible when one of the individuals named by this whistleblower is still holding a position of power and oversight in the legislature,” he said in a news release.
“Restoring public trust must be every MLA’s priority at this moment in time. Positions such as assistant deputy Speaker have an even higher threshold for trust given the responsibility they hold in serving the entire legislature.”
Reid could also not be reached for comment on the allegation made about her expenses.
Weaver said Reid should step down as the assistant deputy Speaker until “these allegations can be fully addressed.”
Lenz and James were suspended and escorted out of the legislature in November after it was announced the RCMP had begun an investigation. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.
On Monday, a 76-page report written by Plecas was released by the legislative assembly management committee, alleging the two men claimed expenses for luxurious overseas trips and personal purchases.
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.
Begg, a member of the all-party committee that oversees the financial management at the legislature, said Reid was Speaker from 2013 to 2017 when many of the alleged abuses would have occurred.
He said the public also needs to hear details from Reid about a special retirement allowance James received for $257,000. The report by Plecas says James asked for and received the benefit in 2012 as a form of transition payment for legislature executives who work more than 10 years before leaving. Reid was an assistant deputy Speaker in 2012.
The report says James made a second request for a similar retirement allowance last year but it was denied by Plecas.
Attempts to reach James and Lenz since the report was released have not been successful, but on Monday they said in a statement they had only just learned of its 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 legislative assembly management committee, which Plecas chairs, voted Monday to release the report, conduct a workplace review and ask an auditor from outside B.C. to review legislature financial issues. James and Lenz were given until Feb. 1 to respond.
Reid’s tenure as Speaker also included spending controversies. In 2014, Reid apologized and repaid $5,500 she billed the government for a business-class flight to South Africa for her husband who accompanied her to a Commonwealth leaders conference.
Reid was also criticized but not censured for her purchase of $48,000 custom touch-screen computer terminal in front of her chair in the legislature chamber and a $700 muffin tray for MLA gatherings in the library.
Plecas said Wednesday at a public event in his Abbotsford riding that more work needs to be done at the legislature now that his report has been released.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this story yet,” he said.
Story by Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press