Spending scandals have dogged the B.C. legislature for many years

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      This week, the public was shocked to learn of an RCMP investigation of the clerk and the sergeant-at-arms of the B.C. legislature.

      However, this is just one of a long list of controversies linked to the operations of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria.

      In 2012, then auditor general John Doyle released a damning report documenting substantial irregularities in the financial accounting.

      Doyle noted that the legislative assembly did not produce financial statements despite a recommendation to do so in a 2007 report.

      "At it stands, the legislative assembly is falling well short of the basic financial management practices established for the rest of government," Doyle declared at the time.

      The same year, the clerk of the legislature, Craig James, came under criticism from Integrity B.C. This was for billing taxpayers $43,295 on travel expenses over a four-month period in 2010 when he was acting chief electoral officer.

      Writing in the Vancouver Sun, Jonathan Fowlie reported that James took his wife with him at government expense to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's annual conference.

      The bill for this jaunt came to $14,523.58. According to Fowlie's report, James said that he could bring his wife because Elections B.C. policy permitted billing the government for two tickets if that was cheaper than the cost of one business-class fare.

      The speaker's office reportedly paid for the speaker and deputy speaker, then Bill Barisoff and Claire Trevena, to both attend the same conference with their spouses at taxpayers' expense.

      The clerk, Craig James, is the de facto CEO of the operations of the legislative assembly.

      Last year, James billed the government $51,649 in travel expenses on top of his $347,090 salary. Gary Lenz was paid $218,167 and billed $23,079 in travel expenses.

      These two officers of the legislature were placed on paid administrative leave this week when news broke of the RCMP investigation.

      Nothing has been revealed about the specifics of the probe except that it is "criminal" rather than "political". No charges have been laid.

      House speaker Darryl Plecas originally raised concerns about James and Lenz. His assistant and long-time friend, Alan Mullen, conducted a seven-month investigation, which led the RCMP to look into the matter.

      That, in turn, resulted in James and Lenz being escorted out of the legislature and being cut off from access to its computer systems.

      Plecas then recommended Mullen as the acting sergeant-at-arms, which was shot down by the house leaders for the three parties.

      Yesterday, it was revealed that Plecas has hired former attorney general Wally Oppal as an adviser.

      B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson has expressed alarm over Mullen conducting an investigation when he had "no legal training or policing experience".

      In the meantime, the assistant attorney general has appointed Vancouver lawyers David Butcher and Brock Martland as special prosecutors.

      They will evaluate any findings by the RCMP and determine if charges should be laid.

      B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson questions why Darryl Plecas had someone with no legal or police training investigating the clerk and sergeant-at-arms.

      James's predecessor came under fire

      The former legislature clerk, George MacMinn, was also the subject of controversy after his retirement in 2011. He subsequently billed taxpayers an additional $480,000 for consulting to help his replacement (James).

      After these payments became public, MacMinn announced that he would donate the money to the legislative library after his death.

      This did not impress Victoria resident Gordon Wheatley.

      "We have a person who has been retained in the position of clerk of the legislature for 16 years after the normal retirement age of 65, following which he was maintained on contract for an additional two years," Wheatley wrote in a letter to the Times Colonist. "In other words, George MacMinn has benefitted post-retirement by approximately $3 million, which is more than most people can hope to earn in a lifetime.

      It turned out that MacMinn wasn't alone in securing this deal. Two previous clerks also received post-retirement consulting contracts, according to the newspaper.

      Then in 2014 the RCMP sought information about $79,000 in security upgrades to then speaker Linda Reid's constituency office.

      This came in the wake of a bomb plot at the B.C. legislature the previous year.

      It was abetted by the Mounties as part of a sting operation against Surrey residents John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, whose convictions were thrown out in B.C. Supreme Court. The Crown has since appealed.

      Reid was also criticized for $48,000 in upgrades to the speaker's desk and another $16,000 to pay for her assistant to commute between Richmond and Vancouver.

      Former speaker Linda Reid's office expenses were the subject of several news stories.

      Even Premier John Horgan hasn't escaped unflattering coverage relating to legislature expenditures.

      In 2012, Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer noted that Horgan, then the Opposition house leader, criticized the appointment of MacMinn as a consultant.

      Horgan pointed out that this "$240,000-a-year contribution to the clerk-consultant is unnecessary if we're only meeting a month or two or three (every) year".

      James, however, reportedly responded that this would probably be met with a lawsuit if the contract was cancelled.

      According to Palmer's report, Horgan argued with MacMinn in the clerk's office, but later denied that he had raised this with MacMinn when asked by legislature columnist Jim Hume.

      Horgan later corrected himself.

      "So it would seem there's a personal element to this showdown," Palmer concluded, "one that does no credit to either of the players, nor to the already damaged reputation of the assembly."