8 jaw-dropping allegations from B.C. Speaker’s report – Jan. 22, 2018 CBC article

A Jan. 22, 2019 CBC article is entitled: “8 jaw-dropping allegations from B.C. Speaker’s report: Wood-splitter, home iMac support and subscriptions to magazines among alleged expenses.”

Some of the best journalism, in my view, appears in official reports of various kinds. The following report is in that category:

Plecas Report

The report is conveniently laid out in three tabs: Document, Pages, and Text. Thats’s a very handy way to organize information.

When I first read about the report, it occurred to me that the alleged goings-on are to some extent “typical of British Columbia” given its particular (and, anecdotally speaking, characteristic) history and culture. I say that as a person who lived in B.C. for seven years in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

However, I subsequently learned, from an anecdotal source, that the alleged behaviours can to some extent be viewed as part of an alleged culture of entitlement that, on occasion, makes its presence known in other jurisdictions also. On reflection, I can also add that there are many positive things that are characteristic of the culture of British Columbia meaning it does not make a lot of sense for me to generalize about such matters.

Excerpt (p. 63) from B.C. Speaker’s report:

200. It is essential that the Clerk of the House is, and is seen to be, a nonpartisan role. That principle is echoed in the job description for the role, which states, “It is critical that the Clerk of the House has the full support of all political parties and must be seen as being even-handed and not connected to any political party.” [124] This Preliminary Report cannot, and does not purport to, draw conclusions as to whether Mr. James is partisan. However, it is undoubtedly the case that he is seen to be by some people, and appearances are important.

201. Part of that impression has no doubt arisen because of the circumstances around Mr. James’ appointment to the role of Clerk. One of the recommendations of this Preliminary Report is that a full review consider whether there would be merit in making changes to the appointment process for Permanent Officers, including (for example) imposing a requirement that those roles be subject to an open competition process, or appointed by the Legislative Assembly based on the unanimous recommendation of a special committee with membership from all parties.

[End]

Excerpt (p. 64) from report:

Oversight and Accountability of Senior Officers

202. The authority that underlies the respective roles of the Speaker, Clerk and
Sergeant-at-Arms is a patchwork of history and custom, Standing Orders of the
Legislative Assembly, provisions in the Constitution Act, the Legislative Management
Committee Act and the Legislative Assembly Procedure Review Act, and the policies of
the Legislative Assembly.

203. In practice, there appears to be too much power and too little accountability in the Office of the Clerk. While the Office of the Speaker and LAMC are intended to provide a level of oversight and accountability, LAMC does not have a supervisory or disciplinary relationship with the Clerk in relation to the administration of the Legislative Assembly in the way that, for example, a well-functioning company would have as between a CEO reporting to a Board of Directors or a well-functioning municipal police board would have with their Chief of Police. Moreover, it appears historically to have been the case that LAMC rarely met; as early as then-Auditor General John Doyle’s report in 2012, strengthening LAMC oversight was identified as an area of urgent requirement in the interests of good governance. [125]

204. Similarly, the relationship between the Speaker and the Clerk does not have standard hallmarks of reporting and accountability because, while the Speaker is given supervisory jurisdiction over the Clerk’s “direction and control of officers and clerks employed in the offices of the Legislative Assembly”, [126] the Speaker does not have disciplinary or termination powers over the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms. As noted at para. 194 above, only the Legislative Assembly as a whole has that power. There is an apparent tension between the Speaker’s notional supervision of the Clerk, but also, in practice, the Speaker’s heavy reliance on the Clerk for assistance with the business of managing House proceedings, interparliamentary relations, and to provide general guidance as to what constitutes standard practice at the Legislative Assembly. Where the Clerk presents something to a new Speaker as innocuous, it may be difficult for a Speaker to know otherwise. Moreover, if the Speaker’s ability to provide objective oversight is compromised by a close friendship with the Clerk, then it potentially creates a situation where there is no effective scrutiny of the most powerful employee of the organization.

[End]

 

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