BC Liberals Shared Cosy Relationship With Legislature “Moocher” Craig James Accused Of Taking An “Illicit” $258,000 Payout Among Other Hefty Expenses On Taxpayers’ Tab

Neither Former Premier Christy Clark, Nor Current Leader Andrew Wilkinson Or Former BC Liberal Speaker Linda Reid Called Out James On The Allegations Of Extravagant Expenses And The Payout!

Suspended Legislature Clerk Crag James, who was appointed clerk assistant and clerk of committees of the B.C. Legislative Assembly in 1987, came to prominence when he was hand-picked by the B.C. Liberals to be the acting chief electoral officer at Elections BC. Normally, the chief electoral officer, who is an independent officer of the legislature, is appointed with unanimous approval of the house, but for James’ interim appointment, the NDP was not consulted. According to B.C. Speaker of House Darryl Plecas, the sergeant-at-arms “expressed the view that Mr. James was not impartial and that he was in fact very close with the B.C. Liberal Party.” How close was James to the BC Liberals – just take a look at his over-expensed trips to the mainland which was mostly to meet BC Liberals – past and present.Of the 36 trips James billed for, 25 of them were to see Liberals including Geoff Plant, Bill Barisoff and Christy Clark. Plecas’ report also cites “unusual compensation arrangements” in the form of a 2012 payment of $660,000 made to four unidentified legislative staff. That payment is now known to have been arranged by James, according to the Plecas report, which says he was one of the four people who benefited, to the tune of a $258,000 lump sum payout.

VICTORIA – Big scandals are usually rare for opposition parties but the BC Liberals long road of messes during their days in power are continuing to haunt them as seen by the bombshell allegations raised this week in a report by B.C. Speaker of House Darryl Plecas against BC Liberal-appointed and now suspended clerk of the house Craig James, who’s accused of extravagant personal expenses including a personal-use log-splitter, truckload of liquor and huge retirement payouts.

The report, released Monday, detailed allegations of overspending by senior members of B.C. Legislative Assembly including James and Sergeant-at-Arms Garry Lenz. Both were suspended from their jobs two months ago. They have not been charged with any crime, and have denied all wrongdoing, reported CBC News.

The history of James’ time with the BC government shows that he became a favorite of the BC Liberals who doled out a number of senior appointments to James.

James, who was appointed clerk assistant and clerk of committees of the B.C. Legislative Assembly in 1987, came to prominence when he was hand-picked by the B.C. Liberals to be the acting chief electoral officer at Elections BC. Normally, the chief electoral officer, who is an independent officer of the legislature, is appointed with unanimous approval of the house, but for James’ interim appointment, the NDP was not consulted.

During his time at Elections BC, James’ actions have the effect of delaying the anti-HST petition brought forward to repeal the tax the Liberals had introduced. He also fires long-serving deputy chief elections officer Linda Johnson as part of an office reorganization.

B.C. Liberal house leader Rich Coleman moves to appoint James clerk of the house, which is passed by the Liberal majority but opposed by all opposition members who ask for a competitive hiring process. James’ appointment breaks with the tradition of all members of the assembly supporting the selection of the clerk.

According to Plecas, the sergeant-at-arms “expressed the view that Mr. James was not impartial and that he was in fact very close with the B.C. Liberal Party.”

How close was James to the BC Liberals – just take a look at his over-expensed trips to the mainland which was mostly to meet BC Liberals – past and present.

Of the 36 trips James billed for, 25 of them were to see Liberals including Geoff Plant, Bill Barisoff and Christy Clark. Eleven were for some other purpose, two were to see members of both parties and just one to see an NDP MLA.

In his 76-page report, Plecas noted a number of circumstances around James’ appointment to “a role well above his previous position may all be seen to give the appearance of possible partisanship at play.”

“Mr. Plant is a practicing lawyer in Vancouver, and I understand he was retained by the legislature to provide legal advice,” BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said, adding that he’s not sure about the other trips, reported CTV News.

James used “assured loading” enough to bill taxpayers $10,975, and claimed mileage “that exceed what would be expected given the indicated destination,” the report says.

In 2012, B.C. Auditor General John Doyle releases a scathing report into the financial management of the legislature saying he could not conclude if money was being properly spent because the books were such a mess. Doyle cites problems such as MLAs having their credit card bills paid without receipts.

The report also cites “unusual compensation arrangements” in the form of a 2012 payment of $660,000 made to four unidentified legislative staff.

That payment is now known to have been arranged by James, according to the Plecas report, which says he was one of the four people who benefited, to the tune of a $258,000 lump sum payout.

James is called upon to answer for $43,295 in travel expenses he racked up over a four-month period during his short time at Elections BC.

The information, revealed in documents obtained by Integrity B.C., includes an expense of over $14,500 for flights taken by James and his wife to a Commonwealth conference in Kenya.

At the same time, James is asked for details around the half million dollar golden send-off given his predecessor George MacMinn, former clerk of the house, who at the time of retirement was handed a two-year consulting contract worth $500,000, reported CTV News.

James’ eye-popping travel expenses while serving as an officer of the legislature have been compiled and charted by Integrity B.C.’s Dermot Travis. The total bill since 2005 was $555,722. That’s not including the $59,518 he expensed during his one year at Elections B.C.

James has benefited from substantial salary increases throughout his tenure at the legislature.

In 2013-14 his clerk’s salary increased over $30,000 to $289,984. According to Integrity B.C., that year he earned  $61,000 more than the clerk of the House of Commons in Ottawa, and $70,000 more than the clerk of the Ontario legislature.

From 2016-17 to 2017-18, James’ salary increased almost $40,000, from $307,892 to $347,090, according to the Plecas report.

Among other “flagrant” expenses, the Speaker’s report alleges that in those trips Craig James was using “assured loading” on the B.C. Ferries – a $155 a trip perk that added up to almost $11,000 over the period studied with taxpayers footing the bill.

And in most trips detailed in the report, James claims mileage well above the distance calculated by CTV News, suggesting that James was claiming his car was moving when in fact it was sitting still on the ferry deck.

“He didn’t expense visits to me, he did to [former B.C. Liberal Premier] Christy Clark when she wasn’t even a member of this place,” Horgan said at a press conference outside the legislature on Wednesday.

“There are allegations of truckloads of alcohol being delivered to a former member of this legislature. It’s appalling for the people in B.C. We need to get to the bottom of this,” Horgan said, adding that “this is a result of years of entitlement and it’s offensive to me, and it’s offensive to British Columbians.”

The premier was reacting to claims by the B.C. Liberal leader that the best thing for all parties would be to come together, move on, do an investigation by the auditor general, ban travel for legislature employees and focus on fixing the “petty accounting problems” of the legislature.

“Right now, it’s a real pit. If all of us continue to squirm around in the pit mud wrestling we’re going to look like a pack of idiots. The public need to have confidence in the institution,” Andrew Wilkinson said.

This was the same Andrew Wilkinson who in November accused the B.C. Speaker of being “out of control” and “building his own little empire.”

That was before the report came out, with allegations of tens of thousands of dollars of personal travel expenses, thousands of dollars on suits with the justification they were somehow “part of the uniform” of a legislature clerk, a wood splitter, and a $257,000 retirement settlement for James, even though that program was supposedly discontinued in the late 1980s, reported CTV News.

Horgan said he believes that the Speaker’s report has provided a moment to seize and improve the Legislature.

“To the people of B.C., I’d say we are on top of this. The independence of the Speaker’s office may well be the best thing that’s happened in the last 18 months,” he said.

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