Throwback Thursday: A bit of history on BC legislature accounting practices…or lack thereof
If you haven’t followed the latest #bcpoli scandal, there is quite a story brewing in Victoria….and I thought it might be a good time to look back at how the legislature has been operating for nearly a decade, and what they have done to fix it.
This week, the story broke that two top BC Legislature officials were placed on paid administrative leave, following an investigation and subsequent request by RCMP for a special prosecutor. https://www.straight.com/news/1166786/top-legislature-officials-craig-james-and-gary-lenz-placed-administrative-leave-wake
But wait. It gets more interesting as time goes on. The National Post has since reported that sources indicated to them, the two were being investigated for possible fraud and theft, and that public taxpayers were the victims. https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/two-senior-officials-suspended-from-b-c-legislature-being-investigated-for-possible-fraud-and-theft-sources
An earlier report indicated this had nothing to do with expenses, that remains to be determined. What was interesting in all this, was that the investigation was initially undertaken by Daryll Plecas’ special advisor, Alan Mullen. Who is Alan Mullen and why does Plecas have a special advisor? This recent story sheds some light on this: https://www.bclocalnews.com/news/ive-seen-a-lot-of-joy-and-a-lot-of-crying-life-as-a-politicians-assistant-can-be-eye-opening/
Few constituency offices have seen quite so much change as that of Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas, who became Speaker of the Legislature and left the BC Liberal party in one fell swoop.
As speaker, Plecas must be seen to be impartial. At the same time, though, he remains his constituent’s elected representative. So, in addition to his long-time CA, Amber Born, Plecas now employs Alan Mullen as a “special adviser.”
Mullen had previously volunteered on political campaigns, first on behalf of the NDP, then for Plecas after he decided to run in 2013.
The pair had come to know each other while Plecas was a prison judge and Mullen worked as a corrections manager at Kent Institution. So when Plecas decided to accept an offer from the NDP to become Speaker of the Legislature – a job in which he can’t directly advocate for policies – he tapped Mullen to perform some of the functions he could no longer do.
That includes things like meeting with groups and organizations seeking funding, and taking those requests to decision-makers in Victoria. And Mullen gushed at the results so far, saying he was surprised with the ability to be able to sit down with ministers – although he said Plecas’s decision to take the speakership wasn’t the reason for that accommodation.
Reports now indicate that Mullen conducted this initial investigation for nearly 7 months before handing over everything to the RCMP early this fall. That alone, has raised eyebrows, however today BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and Mary Polak came forward with an affidavit, now saying that in a meeting with Plecas, he had asked for Mullen to given the position of acting Sergent at Arms. Polak and those in attendence said it was inappropriate and that was the end of it.
However, in the context of asking Mullen to fill this position temporarily, Plecas is the chair of the LMA committee and his duties as speaker are listed at the end of this post. Part of those duties is provision of security, something many reporters seem to have missed. The issue here, if any, is the perception of conflict because Mullen is also a personal friend aside from working for Plecas as a ‘special advisor’.
(An initial thought that occurred to me after hearing of this position, was curiosity as to whether Linda Reid had a similar advisor, or is this unique to Plecas? I have yet to see any reporter ask this question. )
But lets move on, because I suspect this story will be occupying #bcpoli for some time. Let’s go back to the past to understand a bit more about how our Legislative Assemblys financial affairs have been handled for years… and how BC mla’s ignored warnings for years that conditions for … gasp.. fraud and theft were ripe in our most respected institution, before finally acting to fix things.
In 2012, Craig James made the news for his lavish expenses, that Dermod Travis of Integrity BC discovered via FOI:
It was following that debacle that it was revealed by a scathing 2012 Auditor Generals audit, that legislative affairs were a mess. Lack of bank reconciliations. No receipts. Expenses from one year classed into another. The full details are here: https://lailayuile.com/2012/07/27/politics-without-principle-makes-hypocrisy-a-governing-force-in-the-legislative-assembly/
And ironically, this wasn’t a new thing – the Auditor Generals office had
recommended way back in 2007, that the Legislature provide publicly available audited financial reports, and improve internal controls to prevent fraud and misappropriation of public funds…. and it never happened. For 5 years after that, BC MLA’s did nothing to fix their own financial affairs. So, one would think the 2012 stories would have created change, yes?
No.Two years later, in 2014, news broke that then speaker Linda Reid’s expenses were a bit like Imelda Marcos: Lavish expensed trips, excessive legislative spending.. you get the gist. And it wasn’t just Linda Reid…Raj Chouhan expensed a lavish trip as well, which he paid back. Full details on that,here: https://lailayuile.com/2014/03/26/politics-without-principle-2-0-just-because-you-candoesnt-mean-you-should/
Finally, following more than a decade of amateurish accounting practices, the BC Legislature and MLA’s within it had been embarrassed enough to move towards proper accounting practices and transparency, and published their first expense reports in 2015: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Legislature+releases+detailed+expenses/10926667/story.html
It’s now 2018 and the most recent LAMC Accountability report is available online to show you how and where the legislature spends its money and keeps track of it. Seems timely to show you: https://www.leg.bc.ca/content/CommitteeDocuments/41st-parliament/LAMC/LAMC_AccountabilityReport_2016-17.pdf
I can’t determine what safeguards they have in place now to prevent misappropriation of funds, but it’s clear that little attention has been paid to this in the past.
Darryl Plecas, in addition to speaker, is also chair of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which would give him access to and insight into financial matters of the legislature, and certainly affords him a unique position to see things others may not…particularly with his background in criminology.
Incidentally, he is hated by most BC Liberals…and this post I wrote explains why: https://lailayuile.com/2017/09/10/educating-ryan/ Plecas was the only person to call out Clark when she tried to pass off the NDP platform as the Lib platform in a last ditch attempt to fool voters prior to the last election. And Randy Hawes said it so well. There isn’t a Liberal in that house who doesn’t want to see Plecas gone…and to see him removed as Speaker which would make it possible to try and topple the current government. Frankly this aspect alone, their contempt for Plecas, taints the situation greatly.
The BC Liberals will make much noise over Mullen and Plecas, to distract #bcpoli watchers from the REAL story: what Plecas found, what evidence was handed to the RCMP and why it merited two special prosecutors. That is the story here…not Mullen. What exactly prompted this investigation in the first place?
A snapshot of current and past members of this committee are as follows:
Other info that might be helpful to understand context of duties, during this evolving story , from the link above:
Finance and Audit Committee
The Finance and Audit Committee is an advisory sub-committee reporting to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee on financial and administrative matters. It is comprised of the Speaker, the government and opposition Caucus Chairs, the Third Party House Leader, and the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.
Speaker of the Legislative Assembly ( Darryl Plecas)
The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly is elected by its Members to serve as the Presiding Officer and Chair of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee. Under the Committee’s direction, the Speaker is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Assembly, the provision of security within the Legislative Precinct, and the management of the use of the Legislative Precinct.
( note: Plecas has a strong background in criminology- from his mla website: “Plecas was the RCMP Senior University Research Chair and Director for the Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research at the University of the Fraser Valley, where he worked for 34 years. He holds two degrees in criminology from Simon Fraser University and a doctorate in higher education from the University of British Columbia. He is the author or co-author of more than 200 books, international journal articles, and research reports addressing a broad range of public safety issues. His most recent book, which he co-authored in his current role as professor emeritus at the University of the Fraser Valley, focuses on how government professionals can make better decisions.”
Clerk of the Legislative Assembly ( Craig James)
The Clerk of the Legislative Assembly is the senior permanent officer and procedural advisor to the Speaker and all Members. The Clerk manages the provision of professional and procedural advice and support to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee and the Finance and Audit Committee, and is responsible for the Assembly’s administrative and financial operations.
And this link explains when and why special prosecutors are brought in. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/criminal-justice/bc-prosecution-service/about/special-prosecutors
So there you have it… and this is why people like Dermod Travis of Integrity BC and Bob Mackin matter so much. I would say both have been instrumental in bringing the legislature into a state of professionalism with respect to accounting, and transparency. I will post updates to this story as they develop, in the comments below.