More B.C. legislature employees allege mistreatment, the speaker says

In a wide-ranging interview, Speaker Darryl Plecas says the number of former and current legislature employees alleging they were mistreated continues to grow, and now includes some political staffers.

The number of former and current legislature employees complaining about alleged mistreatment grows almost daily, and the tally now also includes political staffers, Speaker Darryl Plecas says.

Two weeks ago, Plecas’s chief of staff Alan Mullen said about 20 people who worked for the B.C. legislature — in areas such as the financial services branch, the library and the dining room — complained they were fired after raising concerns about witnessing alleged financial wrongdoing. In a wide-ranging interview with Postmedia News, Plecas said that number gets larger every day, and includes current employees.

“Alan, it’s not exaggerating to say,(gets) at least a phone call a day form someone who says, ‘Let me tell you what I have to say,’” Plecas said. “There’s several current employees with very interesting stories to tell.

“We have this throng of employees, 20-plus employees, many of whom were very senior managers, many of whom worked in finance … who have much to say about wrongdoing which goes back 15-plus years.”

Mullen made his initial comments about the alleged firings several days after the Jan. 21 release of Plecas’ explosive report which accused suspended Clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz of “flagrant overspending” that included inappropriate expenses, lavish foreign trips that involved little work, and questionable retirement and pay benefits.

The allegations have not been proven in court, and James and Lenz deny any misconduct in their responses to the Plecas report, which were obtained exclusively by Postmedia on Friday. They both want their jobs back.

LISTEN: This week on the In The House podcast, Rob Shaw and guest Vaughn Palmer discuss a busy time in B.C. politics, including the final count of the Nanaimo byelection, the auditor general’s look at B.C. Hydro deferral accounts, the legislature being placed under Freedom of Information legislation, and other stories of the week.

Most of the fired workers were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements in exchange for severance, but they are legally able to speak with Plecas as part of his workplace investigation, he said.

“They all have the same story to tell with regard to how their career ended once they raised questions about wrongdoing and untoward activity. They were quickly fired,” he said. “They have sworn affidavits.”

B.C. Legislative Speaker and Abbotsford MLA Darryl Plecas. Mike Bell / PNG

As speaker, Plecas has jurisdiction over the non-unionized employees who work for the legislature, and who typically do not lose their jobs when a new government is elected.

He has no jurisdiction over workers such as ministerial or legislative assistants, who are employed by political parties. Nonetheless, Mullen said a half dozen of these political staffers have also come to him with concerns, but he would not provide specific details.

Mullen declined to say exactly how many more disgruntled former and current legislature employees have contacted him, beyond the original 20. He said it will take time to verify or dismiss the allegations.

James and Lenz, the two most powerful non-elected people in the legislature, were suspended from their jobs Nov. 20, with little public information available to explain the surprise suspensions. Until the release of Plecas’ report in January, he and Mullen were criticized for what appeared to be a heavy-handed move against the two longtime employees.

That critical reaction, Plecas claimed, reinforced for the former employees that they were right to stay silent about their alleged poor treatment because no one may have believed them.

“There was no focus on the people (James and Lenz) being accused. It was nothing, absolutely nothing. It was all about us as the whistleblowers, and of course this made it extremely difficult for the 20 employees because they are all saying, ‘Thank God I didn’t say anything because look at what’s happening to them,’” Plecas said.

“It was a pretty serious beating for a couple of months. And I’m under no illusion that we are going to continue to take that beating.”

Plecas was elected the Liberal MLA for Abbotsford South, but was booted from the Liberal party after taking the Speaker post, which allowed the NDP and Greens to form a minority government.

As Speaker, Plecas is to be non-partisan, but it is clear from his comments that he believes many of the alleged transgressions happened during the four-term Liberal government. He also thinks the new NDP government will bring about legislative change to avoid this type of alleged misspending to happen again in the future.

“I don’t want this to sound partisan in any way but I think the current (NDP) government is all over this. And they are all over it because they had an experience of 16 years where they were saying ‘Oh my God, Oh my God,’” he said.

Plecas also dismissed as “shallow” a plan for 20 proposed ethics reforms that the B.C. Liberals released in response to the speaker’s concerns about staff spending in the legislature.

“Any accountant or forensic auditor would look at that and say, ‘Oh my God, what a bunch of nonsense.’ And then of course there’s the matter of: here we are, we’re still in the throes of trying to figure out what is going wrong here, and people are saying we’re already on the road to fixing it here,” he said.

The Liberals’ proposals, he added, also do nothing to help the fired workers.

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