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Former B.C. Legislature clerk charged in spending scandal

Last Updated Dec 19, 2020 at 8:15 am PST

(Image Credit: CityNews)

An investigation into a former B.C. Legislature clerk has resulted in charges

The BC Prosecution Service announced Friday charges against Craig James

James was charged with four counts of breach of trust by a public officer and two counts of fraud in excess of $5,000

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — Charges have been approved against the former clerk at the B.C. Legislature following an investigation into a spending scandal.

The BC Prosecution Service announced Friday Craig James was charged with four counts of breach of trust by a public officer and two counts of fraud in excess of $5,000.

Charges stem from an “extensive RCMP investigation” dating back to November 2018, according to the BC Prosecution Service, into expense claims and taking legislative property.

More than two years ago James was escorted out of the Legislature by police and was suspended with pay when the investigation began.

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Former Speaker Darryl Plecas reported taxpayer money was wasted on luxury items including trips, luggage and a wood-splitter that was kept at the clerk’s home.

In 2019, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin’s independent fact-finding probe into the conduct of James found he did engage in misconduct.

Meanwhile, the RCMP carried on with its investigation.

James retired, and a non-monetary settlement was reached.

During her review, McLachlin also asked why Plecas didn’t bring his concerns to the officers before dramatically expelling them from the building. Ultimately, Plecas says he did what he thought was right and feels vindicated, even though he thinks McLachlin did leave some stones unturned.

James has appeared in court and will again Jan. 27.

Changes to be made

Since the issue is before the courts, the BC Liberal Caucus says it can’t say much on the issue, but Opposition Leader Shirley Bond thanked the special prosecutor for his work in an email to NEWS 1130.

For the same reason, Government House Leader Mike Farnworth says he can’t talk specifics, but he can confirm changes have been made to ensure spending is responsible.

“Significant tightening up and disclosure requirements around expenses in the Legislature as they relate to the clerk and the Speaker’s office…. “Over the last two years, a number of significant changes have been made with regards to accountability and expenses as they relate to the clerk’s and the speaker’s office, so now, there is proactive disclosure.”

Farnworth, who is the province’s Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister says improvements include measures similar to what’s already in place for elected politicians.

“In much the same way MLA expenses, for example, have been online since I think at least 2012 and cabinet ministers’ expenses have always been publicly disclosed. As well, there have been some significant changes in terms of a new respectful workplace policy.”

We may hear more about that next week from Plecas who recently delivered a final report containing allegations of sexual misconduct from a former employee of the BC Legislature.

RELATED: Report by former speaker of B.C. legislature claims ‘MeToo’ allegations not investigated

Meanwhile, political commentator Bill Tieleman says Craig James is no stranger to controversy because his appointment as clerk back in 2011 was not unanimously supported.

“In a split vote, which almost never happens, the NDP Opposition at the time did not agree with the BC Liberals suggestion. It would be fair to say that Mr. James did not enjoy the complete confidence of the House. Obviously, he wasn’t removed until there were significant allegations made through the speaker’s investigation.”

The former NDP advisor also remembers clashing with the former clerk when James was BC’s chief elections officer — the post he had before he was appointed clerk in June of 2011.

“During the battle over the Harmonized Sales Tax, we had a number of battles with him over that that were very disappointing, so I was particularly unhappy when he became the clerk of the legislature. I don’t think, compared to some previous clerks, he had the kind of support I think is necessary for a clerk to have.”

Tieleman adds, no matter what happens in court, James will always be remembered as the guy who bought some questionable equipment that may never have been used for its stated purpose.

“The wood splitter found at Mr. James’ residence was clearly an iconic symbol of what was wrong. No one’s going to forget the wood splitter. It’s gone into the history books of wacky BC politics –one of many great entries that we have here.”

Allegations of inappropriate spending were also flagged by former Auditor General John Doyle as far back as 2012, but James has repeatedly denied any wrong-doing.

The current Clerk of the Legislative Assembly is Kate Ryan-Lloyd. She’s held that position since James (initially suspended with pay in 2018) resigned in May of 2019.