B.C. Speaker chairs all-party meeting on legislature finances, personnel issues

VICTORIA — An all-party committee that oversees the financial management of British Columbia's legislature meets today in the midst of an ongoing mystery that saw the building's top two officials placed on administrative leave amid a police investigation.

Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk of the house Craig James were escorted from the building by security officials last month after the members of the legislature voted unanimously to place the two officials on administrative due to an ongoing investigation by the RCMP.

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Lenz and James have denied any wrongdoing and hired legal counsel who has demanded they be permitted to return to their jobs while the investigation continues.

Two special prosecutors were appointed on Oct. 1, but the RCMP has not commented beyond stating the investigation involves "the activities of senior staff at the British Columbia legislature."

The posted agenda for Thursday's meeting of the eight-member Legislative Assembly Management Committee includes a behind-closed-doors report on an unnamed personnel issue. But among the agenda's items for public discussion is a report from acting legislature clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd and an opportunity to raise other business topics.

Speaker Darryl Plecas is the chair of the committee that also includes the house leaders for the New Democrats, Liberals and the Greens as members. Plecas met with New Democrat house leader Mike Farnworth, Liberal house leader Mary Polak and Green house leader Sonia Furstenau before the legislature voted to place Lenz and James on leave.

Plecas, who refused a request by the Opposition Liberals to hold an emergency meeting of the committee last week, has left much of the issue's public comments to his special advisers Alan Mullen and former B.C. attorney general Wally Oppal.

Mullen, a former federal prison official who is a personal friend of Plecas, and Oppal both describe the legislature matter as "criminal."

But on Wednesday, Plecas mentioned the committee meeting and the turmoil at the legislature during a Christmas function at the legislature hosted by his office.

"Do I look like somebody who's worried," he told the gathering during his official welcome. "At the end of the day it's all going to be good."

Plecas then offered his guests a Christmas toast.

Earlier Wednesday, Polak delivered a letter to the acting clerk's office asking that today's meeting include time to allow committee members to ask questions of the Speaker.

"We will not be asking questions on matters related to human resources, the RCMP or the special prosecutors," Polak's letter stated. "However, there are questions about this situation that should be asked and the public deserves their questions answered in a public forum."

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