Speaker of the House Daryl Plecas stated when the allegations against the Clerk of the House, Craig James, and the Sergeant-at-Arms, Gary Lenz, were able to be disclosed, the revelations would want to make the taxpayers throw up, and if not, he and his investigator, Mr. Alan Mullen, would both resign.
Fast forward and the public has now learned details of the accusations of exorbitant expenditures that have allegedly taken place.
And while I did not throw up, I certainly listened to the extremely concerning allegations linked to the two Legislative executive staff members with a heavy heart, because I was aware of both gentlemen from my time as a constituency assistant in the office of past MLA Doug Bing, and both of the men were nothing less than professional when our office reached out to them for support.
However, my sadness for the situation is because these gentlemen are accused of not following the standards they are supposed to maintain.
Reflecting on the training I received as a new constituency assistant when I worked for Mr. Bing, it was primarily focussed on accountability and transparency relating to the office finances.
Not being math friendly, I found the training excruciating and was relieved that my colleague in the office, who was a trained payroll clerk and bookkeeper, loved this type of work and opted to take over those duties.
Another bonus was the fact that Mr. Bing had run his own dental practice and he was fastidious with his accounting and had no problem understanding and adhering to the rules, which, rightly, there were plenty of.
To give an example of how closely everything was monitored, the only occasion we erred was when Mr. Bing’s expenses listed a ticket to a pub night fundraiser and, as required, a scanned image of the ticket was included, which detailed that the ticket holder was entitled to a burger and a beer.
However, alcohol is not a permissible expense, which we knew, but neither Mr. Bing, who would not have consumed the beer, nor my colleague, took note of the beer reference on the ticket, but the staff at the legislature did and denied the claim.
Our office was reminded that alcohol was not a permissible expense, leaving us feeling like we had been called down to the principal’s office. Yet, we were all impressed on how steadfast the checking was.
So when I learned that Mr. James, who presided over our constituency assistant orientation and made it implicitly clear to NDP, Liberal and Green constituency assistants alike that it was our job to ensure that our MLAs did not get themselves into trouble by expending or remitting expenses that were not permitted, was now appearing to not be heeding his own direction, I felt that there was more at stake than any potential misdeeds.
In 1992, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee Act was passed, which created an all-parties Legislative Assembly Management Committee vested with the powers and duties related to the development of policies for the administration and financial management of the Legislative Assembly in support of Members’ parliamentary and constituency responsibilities.
According to the Legislative website, the committee is responsible for: the sound administration of the Assembly’s operations; the provision of effective administrative and financial policies and support for the Assembly’s Members in the discharge of their parliamentary and constituency responsibilities; and prudent Assembly budgets and expenditures on behalf of all British Columbians.
The committee, which the name depicts, is made up of members from each of the parties and is chaired by the Speaker of the House and supported by the Legislative Executive staff, inclusive of Mr. James and Mr. Lenz.
Mr. James has been clerk since 2011, and looking at the roster of MLAs that have sat on the committee during his tenure, there have been some pretty heavy political hitters from the two main parties over those years, such as Mike de Jong, Linda Reid, John Horgan and Mike Farnsworth, to name a few.
Therefore, reflecting back on the “beer” incident, I find it pretty hard to fathom how a committee of seasoned politicians from both parties who are jointly responsible for ensuring exactly what Mr. James and Mr. Lenz are accused of doing doesn’t happen, never had an inkling as to the alleged activities of the two gentlemen who sat with them on the committee.
And, going back to why I feel sad, over and above the sadness that I feel thinking that legislative staff members I respected for their thoughtful guidance may not be deserving of such respect, is the fact that a larger group of seasoned politicians operating within a legislative body responsible for protecting the public from such abuse apparently didn’t have a clue, which means our system is either seriously flawed, or the people at the top are.
Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year, and
currently president of ARMS.