B.C. Opposition Liberals question Speaker's actions in legislature probe

Speaker of the legislature Darryl Plecas delivers remarks before the speech from the throne in the legislative assembly in Victoria, B.C., on September 8, 2017. The Opposition Liberals say the Speaker of the British Columbia legislature wanted his special adviser appointed acting sergeant-at-arms before two top officials were placed on administrative leave this week pending an investigation.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

VICTORIA - Party house leaders at the British Columbia legislature rejected a plan by the Speaker to appoint his special adviser to replace the sergeant-at-arms on an acting basis before legislators voted this week to suspend the official holding the job along with the clerk of the house.

House leaders for the New Democrats, Liberals and Greens said Thursday they met with Speaker Darryl Plecas on Monday about placing sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and Clerk Craig James on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Plecas proposed naming his special adviser, Alan Mullen, as acting sergeant-at-arms at the meeting.

"The suggestion was made. It was rejected," said NDP house leader Mike Farnworth. "Everybody accepted it and we moved on."

The house voted unanimously Tuesday to place Lenz and James on leave with pay.

Liberal house leader Mary Polak released a sworn affidavit Thursday that said Plecas told house leaders on Monday that he wanted to make the appointment involving Mullen.

"Our response was 'No,' " Polak at a news conference. "It's not appropriate."

Green house leader Sonia Furstenau said Polak's affidavit about the Speaker's adviser is accurate.

Later Thursday a familiar figure in B.C. politics and legal circles was named as a second adviser to Plecas. Wally Oppal, a former attorney general and retired judge, has been appointed to work with Plecas, Mullen said at a brief news conference.

"We could not be more honoured and pleased that justice Oppal has agreed to come on as a second special adviser and we look forward to meeting with him tomorrow morning," said Mullen, who did not take further questions.

Plecas said earlier Thursday he would hold a news conference, but Mullen then appeared on the Speaker's behalf.

Oppal was appointed B.C. attorney general in 2005 and also served as minister responsible for multiculturalism until 2009. He served at commissioner for the 2012 Missing Women Commission of Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Oppal could not be reached for comment.

Mullen has been the spokesman for the Speaker since Tuesday's legislature vote on Lenz and James.

After the vote, Mullen said the RCMP has launched a criminal investigation, but neither the RCMP nor the B.C. Prosecution Service will confirm the nature of the police probe or say who they are investigating.

No details have been released on any allegations that might be the focus of the investigation.

As he was leaving the legislature on Tuesday, James said he did not know why he was placed on administrative leave. Attempts to reach Lenz and James for comment have not been successful since then.

Mullen said Wednesday he was hired in January by Plecas to work on issues of concern, which included issues related to the legislature investigation. He said information was provided to the RCMP in August.

Mullen said he and Plecas know each other professionally and are friends after working together at federal prisons in B.C.'s Fraser Valley. Plecas is a criminologist and served as a judge on internal prison issues at Kent Institution.

Plecas was elected as a Liberal member of the legislature but after the May 2017 election he sat as an Independent and became Speaker as the NDP worked to form a minority government with the backing of the Green party. He was subsequently removed from the Liberal party.

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said there are questions about Mullen's qualifications to lead an investigation and the public is entitled to know the truth about events of this week.

"It's a matter of getting the facts on the table," he said. "This is about accountability."

Farnworth said he has confidence in Plecas.

Asked when he knew of Mullen's role in the investigation, Farnworth replied: "I can't comment on any aspect other than there's an investigation that's underway. I'm not going to comment based on the advice I've received."

Two special prosecutors were appointed Oct. 1 to help the RCMP in their investigation, but their appointments weren't made public until after the legislature voted to suspend Lenz and James on Tuesday.


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