Speaker Darryl Plecas's report raises questions about travel and other expenditures of senior B.C. legislature staff

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      It appears that travel costs were at the heart of two senior B.C. legislature staff members being suspended with pay last year.

      Today, the all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee released a 76-report report by Speaker Darryl Plecas.

      It outlines various expenses charged by the clerk, Craig James, and the sergeant-at-arms, Gary Lenz, adding up to sizeable sums.

      There are also references to clothing, a wood-splitter, and other questionable expenses billed to taxpayers, including large retirement allowances in 2012.

      The report alleges "inappropriate payouts of cash in lieu of vacation, which appear to total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars". As well, according to Plecas, there was a "lack of oversight or appropriate protocols in the awarding of employment benefits".

      And it pays particular attention to a trip that the two senior officials and Plecas took to the United Kingdom last summer to observe an anti-terrorism exercise.

      On July 31, James and his wife flew from Calgary to London, returning on August 13.

      "Following the trip, Mr. James claimed reimbursement of $1,021.91, which is equal to the advertised cost of one business class return flight from Victoria to Calgary," Plecas wrote. "His annotations on the relevant documents explain that, although he did not actually take such a flight, he was claiming that amount 'instead of claiming' 3,000 km in mileage for the drive from Victoria to Calgary, 'which would be more'."

      Plecas declared that it was difficult to accept this justification.

      That's because he believes James and his wife drove to Calgary for a personal holiday, where one of their children lives. Plecas noted the distance is just over 1,000 kilometres, not the 3,000 kilometres claimed by James.

      In addition, Plecas cited "evidence that per diems were improperly claimed" in some instances. In one example, he mentioned James claiming full day payments on July 31 and August 1 when he appeared to leave Canada at 6:30 p.m. on July 31.

      "With the exception of August 7 and 8 (when breakfast was provided as part of the training exercise), Mr. James claimed full per diems for everyday of the trip," Plecas wrote. "On many days, one or more meals was provided by British hosts to the Legislative Assembly travelling party, or vice versa."

      According to Plecas, Lenz claimed per diems on August 7 and 8 when breakfast was included in the hotel room rate.

      This chart showed per diems claimed by the clerk, sergeant-at-arms, and speaker while they were all in the U.K. attending a conference last August.

      In addition, Plecas's report cited expenses charged by James and Lenz for "uniforms". These included a charcoal suit, bookmarks, and two other items at $1,327.20 at Ede & Ravenscroft purchased by James. Lenz charged taxpayers for an onyx and silver stud set, a mother-of-pearl stud set and cufflinks, and a Marcella wing shirt, costing $666.11.

      On the same trip, James also claimed expenses for $1,360.22 in gift-shop purchases, which Plecas found hard to justify. Lenz claimed reimbursement of $16.75 for a fantasy novel, The Winter King.

      Plecas also flagged a $771.42 expense for a large vehicle from a limousine company to take Lenz, his wife, and James's wife from Ettington to York.

      "Notwithstanding that the Speaker did not take that trip, the receipt appears to have been divided in thirds, with equal reimbursement of $257.14 claimed from the Clerk's, the Sergeant-at-Arms', and the Speaker's offices," Plecas wrote.

      He claimed there were similar issues on other trips, including one to China in June 2018.

      The chart below shows the per diems charged for meals by the three people on the China trip.

      "The Speaker's evidence is that many meals were provided by Chinese hosts," Plecas wrote. "In addition, Mr. James also submitted receipts totalling $1,014.27 for 'hospitality events' hosted by the B.C. delegation during the trip," Plecas stated. "Many of those receipts contain references to 'lunch' or 'dinner', appearing to indicate that meals were provided. In light of the above, it is difficult to explain Mr. James' claim of full per diem expenses for the entire trip."

      James also charged the legislative assembly for $2,135.87 for luggage bought on international trips.

      According to the report, James claimed that this was bought for use by MLAs after they had requested it.

      Plecas wondered why "reasonably priced luggage would not have been purchased in Victoria at a department store, or why MLAs would not simply use their own luggage".

      In addition, Plecas raised concerns about digital subscriptions claimed by James, which totalled more than $5,000 and included such publications as Popular Mechanics, Wired, Bicycling, and Arizona Highways.

      James also claimed $658.45 for a waterproof camera and $78.39 for a camera case, as well as $504.44 for Bose noise-cancelling headphones, according to the report.

      Plecas also revealed that in March or April of 2018, James asked the speaker to sign a piece of paper to provide a retirement allowance for certain legislative assembly executives who spent 10 years or more on the job.

      This came on the heels of another retirement allowance granted in 2012.

      This section of the Plecas report highlights retirement allowances granted to James and others in 2012. Kate Ryan-Lloyd later returned her payment.

      The 2018 allowance would have required taxpayers to pay 12 months' salary to those staff when they retired, amounting to more than $300,000 for James on top of his pension.

      "On June 26, I spoke with Mr. James and told him that I would be rescinding the retirement allowance benefit for him and the other officers listed," Plecas wrote.

      The report also mentioned expenditures for a wood-splitter and work/tools trailer charged to the legislature, which have allegedly been used by James and Lenz for their own purposes.

      It's in the possession of the RCMP, according to the report. James has insisted through his lawyers that he was merely "holding" it because there was no room to store it in the legislative precinct.

      There's also mention of an alleged truckload of alcohol bought by taxpayers that may have been removed from the legislative precinct.

      Craig James is on paid leave as clerk of the legislature.

      On November 20, assistant deputy attorney general Peter Juk announced that two Vancouver lawyers, David Butcher and Brock Martland, were appointed as special prosecutors after James and Lenz were suspended with pay.

      These special prosecutors will determine if any charges should be laid as a result of an RCMP investigation, which was requested by Plecas's office.

      At a news conference on November 26, James and Lenz said they were each "deeply humiliated" by their suspension and being escorted out of the legislature by the police.

      Both men insisted that they have done nothing wrong and welcomed the RCMP probe.

      "I know it will clear my name," James said at the time.

      Last year, James collected a $347,090 salary and billed the government $51,649 in travel expenses.

      Lenz was paid $218,167 and submitted travel expenses of $23,079.

      In the wake of Plecas's report, MLAs have ordered a forensic audit.