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B.C. legislature Speaker threatens to resign; defends handling of suspensions

VICTORIA — The Speaker of British Columbia's legislature has promised to resign if a financial audit he is recommending doesn't prompt public outrage and back his handling of a controversy that has engulfed the province's politics.
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VICTORIA — The Speaker of British Columbia's legislature has promised to resign if a financial audit he is recommending doesn't prompt public outrage and back his handling of a controversy that has engulfed the province's politics.

Darryl Plecas made the promise during a meeting Thursday of an all-party financial management committee that is grappling with the fallout from a police investigation that saw the legislature's top two officials placed on administrative leave.

Plecas told members of the committee he can't discuss the reasons behind the investigation but said he would welcome an audit of the legislature's books, saying he would resign along with his special adviser, Alan Mullen, if an audit didn't justify his actions.

"I am completely confident, completely confident, that those audits will show that we have a lot of work to do here," he told the meeting.  "And if the outcome of those audits did not outrage the public, did not outrage taxpayers, did not make them throw up, I will resign as Speaker, and Mr. Mullen will resign as well."

Plecas hired Mullen, a former federal prison administrator and personal friend, last January. He also recently hired Wally Oppal, a retired judge and former B.C. attorney general, to offer legal advice.

"This has gone on far enough, I've been reduced to a cartoon character," said Plecas. "The press has focused on nothing but this issue since this first happened."

Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and house clerk Craig James were escorted from the building on Nov. 20 after the members of the legislature voted unanimously to place them on administrative leave because of an ongoing police investigation. 

Lenz and James have denied any wrongdoing and their lawyer has demanded they be allowed to return to their jobs while the investigation continues. Their lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday's committee meeting.

The B.C. Liberals have questioned Plecas's handling of the suspensions, but Premier John Horgan has expressed his confidence in him. The Liberals also recently failed in an attempt to bring forward and rescind the motion that placed Lenz and James on administrative leave.

Liberal house leader Mary Polak said Thursday's meeting was one of the strangest she had ever been involved in.

"It was quite unbelievable what he was saying," Polak said afterwards, adding the committee would have to approve any audit.

The committee is tentatively scheduled to meet again in January.

Plecas told the meeting that soon after he was appointed last year, he was made aware of issues that required him to do his due diligence on behalf of taxpayers.

"I can tell every single taxpayer out there, take it to the bank: I will be doing due diligence," he added.

Acting clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd and auditor general Carol Bellringer, who also attended the meeting, said they will not sign off on the legislature's books until the current issues are resolved. The legislature's budget is more than $75 million.

Two special prosecutors were appointed to oversee the police investigation on Oct. 1. 

Mullen, Plecas, and Oppal have described the investigation as a "criminal" matter. 

The RCMP has said it is investigating staff at the legislature, but it has not said who is the subject of the probe or described the investigation as criminal in nature. The special prosecutors have declined comment.

Lenz and James told a news conference on Nov. 26 that they were humiliated after being placed on administrative leave and they want their jobs and their reputations back. Both men said at the time they do not known what it is they are alleged to have done and offered to co-operate with the RCMP investigation.

James outlined steps he took after becoming clerk in 2011 to improve the administration of the legislature, including assuring the auditor general that problems identified in a report would be fixed.

"I have established processes in the legislative assembly that are essentially bulletproof,'' he said, adding they have also led to "clean audits" since then. 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said an audit was being done.




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