B.C. Liberals played major role in boosting the career of legislature clerk Craig James

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      The relationship between the clerk of the legislature, Craig James, and senior B.C. Liberals is emerging as one of the more intriguing spinoffs of the bombshell report by Speaker Darryl Plecas.

      It's a connection that goes back many years.

      Not long after the B.C. Liberal government appointed James as acting chief electoral officer in 2010, he fired the deputy chief electoral officer.

      Linda Johnson had worked at Elections B.C. for 28 years.

      She was not a favourite of the B.C. Liberals.

      That's because after the 2005 election, Johnson launched an investigation of one of then premier Gordon Campbell's most vocal and powerful political supporters, Fraser Institute chairman Peter Brown.

      Brown and Campbell were extremely close over the years. So close, in fact, that Campbell even hired Brown's son to work in his office when he was mayor of Vancouver.

      Johnson's probe concerned a letter that Brown had sent to staff at his brokerage firm before the 2005 election, urging them to re-elect the B.C. Liberals.

      In her role as deputy chief electoral officer, Johnson was curious to know whether this violated rules around third-party advertising.

      In the end, nothing ever happened. But Johnson clearly didn't endear herself to the B.C. Liberals by angering a close associate of the premier.

      There's no indication that Johnson's dismissal was linked to this.

      Nor did she make a connection in a 2010 interview with the Globe and Mail between her ouster and a ruling she made against allowing the B.C. Liberal government to distribute brochures promoting the harmonized sales tax.

      Johnson ruled that this brochure constituted "initiative advertising", which was considered offside at that time.

      The following year, the watchdog group Integrity B.C. criticized James for the wording of the referendum question in the 2011 HST referendum, suggesting it was going to confuse those who wanted to dump the tax. Integrity B.C. executive director Dermod Travis even accused James of politicizing Elections B.C.

      "Voters don't get a chance to pass judgement on James, but hopefully his conscience will let him pass judgement on himself," Travis wrote.

      When the results were tabulated, I wrote a short commentary noting that James did the B.C. Liberals a favour by releasing this information on a Friday in late August. That's because many people were on holidays at that time and not paying as much attention to this as they would in September.

      The B.C. Liberals moved to install James as clerk of the legislature—the de facto CEO—when his predecessor, George MacMinn, retired.

      This occurred even though James spent $43,295 on travel expenses over a four-month period when he was the acting chief electoral officer.

      Over the years, there have been questionable expenses by those in James's vicinity. A former speaker, Bill Barisoff, and a former deputy speaker, Claire Trevena, each billed the government to fly with their spouses to attend a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association annual conference in Kenya.

      James attended the same conference with his wife, costing taxpayers more than $14,000.

      MacMinn was granted a two-year contract, worth $480,000, to act as a consultant to James to help him in his early years as the clerk.

      James was clerk when then speaker Linda Reid came under fire for spending $79,000 on security upgrades to her constituency office, $48,000 for upgrades to the speaker's desk, and $16,000 on commuting expenses for her aide to travel between Richmond and Vancouver.

      Plecas's report alleged that James entered his office needing his signatures to grant him and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz life insurance policies. In James's case, it was for three times his annual salary, which is close to $350,000 per year.

      There's one intriguing passage in the report that speaks to James's possible political leanings.

      Plecas wrote that he was going to issue a decision in the legislature about members not calling each other names.

      "A ruling was required and was in the process of being prepared, and Mr. James gave me some advice about when to deliver the ruling that I didn't think was impartial for my role as Speaker," Plecas stated.

      "I mentioned this to Mr. Lenz during one of his visits to my office, because it was on my mind and because, as a Permanent Officer of the House, I expected the Sergeant-at-Arms might have an informed view about protocol," the speaker continued. "In the course of the response, Mr. Lenz expressed the view that Mr. James was not impartial and that he was in fact very close with the BC Liberal party."

      According to Plecas's report, Lenz also stated that he "should not trust Mr. James".

      Since the release of the report, James and Lenz have both issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and objecting to not being allowed to respond to Plecas allegations before they were included in his report and released to the public.

      None of Plecas's allegations have been proven in court.

      The report also documents several meetings James had with people associated with the B.C. Liberals, as well as with lawyer John Hunter, in 2017 and 2018.

      Hunter, a former president of the B.C. law society, has since been appointed as a B.C. Court of Appeal justice. (Disclosure; Hunter represented former Vanoc CEO John Furlong when he sued me and the Georgia Straight.)

      James had four meetings with Hunter in 2017 in Vancouver. There were 14 meetings with Geoff Plant, a former B.C. Liberal MLA and former attorney general, between March 15, 2017 and August 21, 2018.

      At one of the meetings with Plant, lawyer Paul Barbeau was present. Barbeau is B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson's representative on the party executive.

      Plant is a lawyer at Gall Legge Grant Zwack, which billed the legislative assembly $51,836 in 2017 and another $105,478 in 2018.

      Hunter was a founder of Hunter Litigation, which billed the legislative assembly $44,866 in 2018.

      James also met former premier Christy Clark in Vancouver on October 13 and December 14 of 2017, and on May 2, 2018.

      According to the report, there were also three meetings over that period with former legislature speaker and ex-B.C. Liberal MLA Bill Barisoff and other meetings with Liberal MLAs Mike de Jong and Steve Thomson.

      The only current or former NDP official that James met on his trips outside of Victoria, according to this record, was deputy speaker Raj Chouhan.

      There were no meetings listed in the report with anyone associated with the B.C. Greens.