Speaker Darryl Plecas says ‘justice’ needed for legislature employees

Plecas spoke to media at the opening of a pedestrian and cycling bridge in Abbotsford Wednesday

Speaker Darryl Plecas said this afternoon that he was pleased to see the response to his report on legislature spending, but he won’t be happy until amends are made to staffers who may have been fired for trying to blow the whistle earlier.

He also said the public should get its “money back” and the legislature needs much more oversight and transparency. He also explained why he didn’t immediately confront Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk of the House Craig James when he first noticed signs of improper spending.

Plecas spoke at the grand opening of a pedestrian and cycling bridge across Highway 1 in Abbotsford, where he is a local MLA.

He spoke for around half an hour to media who camped out at the event in the hope of speaking to him two days after the release of a shocking report on proliferate spending at the legislature by its two highest officials.

Plecas said there will be more to come, and hinted that more revelations are likely before an outside audit is completed.

“There’s still lots to do,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this story yet.”

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Plecas says most employees at the legislature are “wonderful” and that a review is needed to document and fix what they “have had to put up with” while doing their jobs.

Plecas’s report included comments from several whistleblowers who spoke to concerns about spending and other issues.

“I never ever want to see a situation where a single employee is harmed by something that happens in the legislature so I want to see justice for those people and I will feel vindicated when I see that happen.”

He said that what he saw while acting as Speaker was probably the “tip of the iceberg,” with more likely to be revealed in the future.

The spending issues should have been fixed long ago, Plecas said, saying that it was clear from his first minutes as Speaker – when he encountered cabinets full of booze and a bucket of ice that was refreshed twice daily – that something was amiss.

“I have never seen this kind of thing in government,” said Plecas, who was a longtime criminologist at the University of the Fraser Valley. “When I was at the university, we had a strict rule: You never, ever bill for alcohol.”

He added that the public should “get our money back.”

He added that much more oversight is needed of spending at the legislature. Currently, the officials caught up in the spending scandal aren’t subject to Freedom of Information laws.

“This should be a lesson for all of us that we need greater accountability, greater oversight, meaningful oversight and meaningful transparency,” Plecas said.

“You only have to have a glance at that report to see that hasn’t happened at all … We’re the people’s house, we’re there on behalf of the people and it’s their right to have access to that information.”

Plecas said the report underscores the need for elected officials to have a “strong moral compass.”

Plecas also suggested his departure from the BC Liberals came, in part, because he was unwilling to stray from his moral compass. He said he took pride in having had previously received top-secret security clearance and said remaining as a BC Liberal would have jeopardized that.

“I knew if I continued what I was doing I might have to give it up … I’ll be quite blunt about that. That’s why I left the Liberal party.

“There are things that are required of people as a political party where it’s the party first and everything else second.”

Plecas also answered the question as to why he approved the expenses submitted by Lenz and James.

He said the situation was “outrageously complicated,” and that he needed to be able to show that there was a pattern of misspending, rather than individual and explainable mistakes.

By building the trust of Lenz and James and not calling them out immediately, he said he was able to fully understand what was going on.

”You have to be able to construct a pattern of activity and it’s not always easy to get to the end zone unless you have the confidence of people.

“Certainly there’s no way that we would have got to where we are now if I would have said in the first instance, at the first sign of wrongdoing, if I would have raised the flag at that moment. That only came about by my having an opportunity over an extended period of time to see a multiplicity of things first-hand and, shall we say, be on side somewhat.”

Plecas said that he had to be careful speaking about the issue because it could affect the involvement of the police. But he added: “It’s not all that it seems when it appears I’ve signed off on certain things. It’s not quite like that. But for the moment again, I’m hoping people will do something differently than has happened over the last few months and cut me some slack in terms of where we want to be at the end zone here. The end game here is very clearly: We want to fundamentally change our concept of transparency and openness.”

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