Craig James, the suspended clerk of B.C.’s legislative assembly, allegedly intervened and shut down a whistleblower investigation into travel and meal expense violations by former Speaker of the House Linda Reid on the basis that “we will all wear it” if it came to light.
Reid said Wednesday the whistleblower (her former legislative assistant) never spoke to her about improper expense files. She called the allegations “unfounded.”
In a special report Monday, current Speaker Darryl Plecas outlined how James “shut down” the whistleblower’s claim of improper billing of travel and meal expenses to the legislature — the provincial parliament managed by James.
Plecas’ report to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee concerning allegations of financial misconduct by James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, does not explicitly name Reid. Rather it refers to “the MLA.”
But travel expense documents concerning “the MLA” in Plecas’ report (dubbed exhibit 23) align exactly with Reid’s public disclosures on the government website, making it clear that the report was referring to her. It’s not clear why Plecas redacted only portions of the documents.
The report outlines how Reid’s then assistant went to the speaker’s office in spring 2018 to inform Plecas, via advisor Alan Mullen, that he was being forced by Reid to file improper expense claims. Thereafter, James is said to have caught wind of the claims, which Lenz initially intended on pursuing.
Glacier Media spoke to Reid, MLA for Richmond South Centre, at her office in Richmond on Wednesday where she declared her “track record has been clean throughout this whole process.”
If the allegations are proven correct, it should raise more significant questions as to how exactly James and Reid conducted themselves during Reid’s term as speaker from 2013 to 2017.
Reid said she “didn’t know” what James meant by saying “we will wear it all” if she was to be investigated.
Reid claimed she was likely “the most transparent speaker” in B.C. history, noting she brought LAMC meetings into a public room. But she acknowledged the clerk’s expense records remain out of the public eye. And she conceded during her time no one was overseeing the clerk’s office budget, other than the clerk.
“Apparently that’s the case,” said Reid, adding LAMC votes on the overall Legislature budget.
Notably, Reid also claimed that she “relied less” on James’ advice over her term “as more issues gave me cause to pause.”
She was asked about the time she expensed her husband’s costs to accompany her on a business trip to Africa (only made public by a media investigation).
“Was it a practice of the House? Was I encouraged to take my spouse? Yes I was. Did I follow the advice (from James)? Yes, I did. Did I rely less on the advice of the clerk and sergeant-at-arms as I continued? Yes, I did,” she replied.
When asked if, in hindsight, that was good judgement on her part, she replied: “It was practice.”
Reid said she would wait for a forthcoming audited report on the Legislature. She would not say whether she thinks that should be B.C.’s Auditor General.
Plecas detailed the assistant’s account: While on a business trip to China in early June, Plecas asserts in his report that James said “we will all wear it” if Reid’s travel expenses were investigated.
On June 18 the assistant — who had been fired on May 31 for supposed budgetary reasons — wrote to Plecas informing him that deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Randy Ennis (whom the assistant had met with previously to discuss the expenses) called him to report that his claims had been investigated and were not substantiated.
“AB (the assistant) had questioned how that could be the case since AB had submitted the expense claims. AB said he did not receive answers that made any sense,” stated Plecas in the report.
Meanwhile, Plecas claimed deputy clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd told him that James had travelled to Vancouver on June 20 to meet with former Attorney General Geoff Plant about how to “rein in Gary and ensure he wouldn’t be conducting investigations in the future.”
Plecas reported he advised the executive financial officer of the legislature, who “reviewed the matter, and agreed that there was cause for concern, which she proposed to deal with by speaking to the MLA informally.”
Plecas claims Ennis “could not provide a rational scenario as to how the expense claims that were submitted could otherwise be justified.”
Plecas’ report suggests that the assistant was terminated for raising the travel expenses to the legislature.
The travel and meal receipts are for relatively small sums — claiming both taxis and car mileage to get to and from the airport and claiming full day per diems when meals were provided at meetings — compared to Reid’s earlier improper claim of her husband’s Africa expenses, or her past office expenses, which garnered significant public interest.
But more “troubling” to Plecas was “Mr. James’ suggestion that, if the matter came to light, it would have broader negative ramifications, together with his claim to have suppressed an internal investigation into a genuine issue raised in good faith by a concerned employee.”
Plecas’ report indicates James may not have acted in the non-partisan manner expected of a clerk.
“Multiple witnesses (including Mr. Lenz…) have informed the Speaker of their view that Mr. James was aligned with the BC Liberals,” the report notes.
He added James’ June 2, 2011, appointment as clerk was questioned by opposition NDP members because it was not subject to a competition.
Over an 18-month period since Plecas took office, records showed James met numerous times with BC Liberals such as Plant, former premier Christy Clark, former finance minister Mike de Jong, the eventual party president Paul Barbeau, and past speaker Bill Barisoff.
James and Lenz have been suspended with pay since Nov. 20, when they were marched out of the legislature under police escort amid the cloud of a criminal investigation.
Among the report’s allegations are: a questionable retirement allowance; improper use of vacation time; expensing family-related travel costs; excessive spending and improper business expense claims for personal use; and unnecessary junkets.
The whistleblower revelations led to Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver Wednesday to call for Reid’s resignation as assistant deputy speaker.
“Our focus at this time must be on restoring public trust in our democratic institutions,” Weaver said. “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.
Reid said that was a premature assertion on Weaver’s part.
In a joint statement Monday, James and Lenz said Plecas’ allegations against them are “false and untrue.” They said Plecas has harmed their families by preparing a report in secret to “further blacken our reputations.”
Plecas did not responded to a request for comment Tuesday.
-With files from Times Colonist and Jeremy Hainsworth