It’s a Legislative emergency! Get the wood splitter!

Well there appears to be some agreement in the BC Legislature. MLAs, accuser and accusees in the turmoil around the Speaker’s Office are SHOCKED. SADDENED. SHOCKED AND SADDENED after the Speaker released his report.

And many questions are being raised as Speaker Darryl Plecas’ long-awaited report on why he accused two legislative employees of misdoings was released this week.

The first question of course, is why the Legislature, located in the heart of Victoria, would have need of a $13,000 wood splitter and trailer. But such a tool was purchased by the suspended Clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, and, according to Speaker Plecas, billed to the Legislature. It was then delivered to to James’ residence where he and his partner in alleged Legislative shenanigans, split firewood.

Further, apparently a lawyer representing James and Lenz said that James was merely ‘holding’ the wood splitter as there was no room on the Legislature grounds. Again, why does the Legislature need a wood splitter? Well, the answer is apparently in case “a crisis situation befell the legislature grounds”. I’m just going to let that lie there for a moment whilst we all chew our cud.

This, as well as other odd purchases, are detailed in Plecas’ report.

For instance, expensive suits, purchased on an expensive trip to London (England not Ontario). Now Plecas himself was on this expensive trip in 2017. He purchased a new Speaker’s hat for himself from the same establishment that makes the robes for the House of Lords. Fancy! No word on what the hat cost. When questioned, Plecas admitted he approved some of these expenses and went on the trips because “he was new” and “he didn’t want to offend senior staff”.

I…. find those excuses underwhelming. Weak sauce. He wasn’t that new. Plecas was elected to the Legislature in 2013 and before that, somewhat ironically, worked for the Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research. Surely, at least as an MLA, he had some sense of appropriate travel and expenditures.

Another interesting expense detailed in the report is $10,000 worth of liquor, which was delivered to former Liberal speaker Bill Barisoff. Now, a nice gift card from the BC Liquor Store is a fine gift, a great way to express appreciation. But $10,000 is a substantial amount of alcohol. That’s a lot of appreciation. Not that I wouldn’t appreciate a gift truck filled with liquor.

There were also inappropriate pay outs of cash in lieu of vacation totalling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yikes.

Then there’s the fact that these ‘business trips’ contained a lot of expensive hotels and other luxuries, and very little actual business.

Of course the other question raised is why no one else noticed all these rather dubious ‘expenses’.

Plecas has offered the explanation that he began collecting evidence fairly early on — after the expensive trip to London.

Regardless the two suspended Legislature officials are crying foul, saying the report further blackens their names. Which, it certainly does. Was there enough reason to perp walk them out of the Legislature or was that just Mr. Plecas handing out some public humiliation? That’s a debatable question.

Meanwhile the RCMP continued to investigate, the Legislature is calling for an outside auditor, and MLAs are shocked and saddened.

Interestingly, the report may have managed to buy Mr. Plecas more time in the Speaker’s chair. A month or so ago, most were pointing fingers at Plecas for the whole mess, and there was a great deal of speculation over whether he could avoid resigning, thus instigating a by-election that had the potential to unseat the government. Now, the murky waters have become somewhat clearer, and while Plecas is involved, the finger of blame is twitching closer to James and Lenz, at least for this particular affair. And scrutiny is also being brought to bear on Assistant Deputy Speaker, BC Liberal MLA Linda Reid’s previous expense claims. In fact BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver has called for her to step aside.

Restoring the public’s trust is job number one, Weaver says.

That’s going to be one big job after this mess.

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