Overstepping his bounds

When the clerk of the B.C. legislature, Craig James, and the sergeant-at-arms, Gary Lenz, were summarily escorted out of the building last week, the immediate question was: Why the perp walk?

Apparently, the two men are subjects of a criminal investigation, which explains their suspension (with pay).

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But when no charges have been laid, and we are told the investigation has been underway for two months, the reputation-destroying manner in which James and Lenz were treated is a disgrace. They could easily have been informed of their suspension out of the public eye.

But the matter I want to explore is, what in heaven's name has the Speaker, Darryl Plecas, been up to? It seems he developed unrevealed suspicions in January, and hired a "special adviser," Alan Mullen, to investigate. Mullen was a longtime friend of his.

It was Mullen's findings that led Plecas to go to the legislature and tell what he had discovered. That, in turn, led to the suspensions of James and Lenz.

First off, if Plecas had concerns, what was he doing hiring a special adviser? Why didn't he go either to the attorney general or the RCMP?

Second, it appears Plecas had other suspicions as well. What were these?

It's important here to remember the Speaker's role. He is not a private detective. He is not paid to run some kind of undercover investigation.

He is no less, and no more, than the servant of the assembly. There was a famous incident in the history of this role, when King Charles I marched into the English parliament and ordered the Speaker to produce five members suspected of treason.

Charles was told by that official, William Lenthall: "Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here."

That certainly doesn't seem to reflect Plecas' views of the job.

For here is the issue. The Speaker, by the nature of his position, is privy to all manner of confidential information.

Some of that relates to the conduct of MLAs and ministers, some of it concerns the behaviour of employees at the legislature.

In that capacity, it is essential he conduct himself in a manner that respects the confidence placed in him. You don't do that by secretly hiring a special adviser with an undisclosed mandate to rummage through goings-on at the legislature.

What assurance do members have that they are not also being investigated, when this entire process has been hidden from sight?

I'm not suggesting that members are indeed being investigated. I am suggesting that, in the present circumstances, they have no means of knowing what their servant has been up to. And now we hear that one of the MLAs, Mary Polak, had sworn an affidavit that the night before the sergeant-at-arms was suspended, Plecas tried to get Mullen appointed to the job.

The best that can be said of the Speaker's decision to advocate the appointment of a longtime friend is that it showed dreadful judgment.

I can find only one example in Canada where a Speaker was removed from his office. In 1875, Nova Scotia's House of Assembly passed a motion proposing that the Speaker's resignation be requested. The individual in question resigned.

Perhaps a few more revelations are needed if that is to happen here. But we are already deep in uncharted territory. Who knows what comes next?

-- Lawrie McFarlane, Victoria Times-Colonist

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