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Horgan told chief of staff not to brief him on B.C. Legislature scandal

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B.C. Premier John Horgan, right, asked the Speaker of the House to leave him out of details of alleged wrongdoings in legislature. His senior aide, Geoff Meggs, left, shredded the documents that detailed the allegations.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Months before police escorted the two top officers of the B.C. Legislature away from the precinct, the Speaker of the House offered Premier John Horgan details of alleged wrongdoing. He declined to be briefed, leaving the file in the hands of his chief of staff with instructions to keep him out of it.

The senior aide, Geoff Meggs, shredded the documents that detailed the allegations.

On Wednesday, Mr. Horgan confirmed that account, revealed in a report released late on Tuesday.

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But his decision to avoid the messy details of the spending scandal was not clear back in November, 2018, when he said he was shocked and had no idea of the substance of allegations that led to the ouster of the clerk of the House and the legislature’s head of security. “I really can’t comment because I don’t know what the allegations are,” he said then.

Some of those allegations have since been confirmed, eventually forcing the two men, the Legislature’s top un-elected officials, to resign.

Mr. Horgan now says he was being cautious when he asked Mr. Meggs to handle the matter.

“Out of an abundance of caution, I said, ‘Don’t talk to me about this,’ ” Mr. Horgan told reporters on Wednesday.

The Premier said he wanted Mr. Meggs to attend, in his stead, the July, 2018, briefing with Speaker Darryl Plecas in the cabinet offices in Vancouver. “I said, ‘I do not want to be involved in any way in allegations against the clerk of this place’ because it was well known that I didn’t like the guy and I didn’t think he should be appointed,” he told reporters.

Mr. Meggs was meticulous in keeping the Premier out of the fray. He did not brief him on the information, and urged Mr. Plecas to take his concerns to the police. He then shredded documents Mr. Plecas left behind.

Police are investigating the allegations, and independent reports so far have detailed improper spending by the former clerk, Craig James, and Gary Lenz, the former sergeant-at-arms.

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Mr. Lenz and Mr. James are accused of enjoying hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel, gifts and other inappropriate benefits at taxpayers’ expense.

On Wednesday, attention turned to whether the governing NDP and the opposition Liberals failed in their duty to oversee the legislature’s administration.

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson called on the Premier to fire Mr. Meggs, saying he should have brought the allegations to the House leaders, who are responsible and accountable for the proper management of the Legislature.

The report released on Tuesday night concluded Mr. Lenz should face discipline under the Police Act for neglect of duty over his conduct related to the apparent theft of a truckload of liquor from the legislature.

Mr. Lenz retired a week before the report, by former deputy chief of the Vancouver Police Doug LePard, was made public. Mr. LePard was asked to investigate by the Speaker, who had expressed disappointment with the scope of an earlier report by former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlin.

Mr. James resigned in May, after the McLachlin report found he repeatedly engaged in misconduct to enrich himself.

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Mr. Wilkinson sidestepped questions about Liberal MLA Linda Reid, who was Speaker of the House and therefore the ultimate authority for the legislature when Mr. James took the boxes of liquor away. Ms. Reid refused to meet with Mr. LePard for his investigation, answering only some of his questions through her lawyer.

The Liberal Leader would not comment on Ms. Reid’s decision, but when pressed, said: “It’s obviously desirable for everyone who works in this building to support the democratic institution and co-operate with investigations.”

Mr. Plecas began his own investigation of Mr. James and Mr. Lenz early in 2018. Although his concerns were wide-ranging, including international travel, expensive suits and a wood splitter bought at public expense and stored at Mr. James’ home, the LePard investigation focused on the incident involving the boxes of liquor.

Mr. LePard concluded Mr. Lenz lied repeatedly to investigators when asked about the removal of government liquor in April, 2013. Mr. Lenz had said he thought Mr. James was returning unused liquor from a conference for a refund. No evidence of such a refund was found.

“It is not believable and defies logic that sergeant-at-arms Lenz would not ask any questions about where the liquor was going,” Mr. LePard wrote. “[His] actions were inappropriate and would support substantiation of the disciplinary default of neglect of duty” under the Police Act.

Government officials on Wednesday said any decision on discipline will be left to RCMP investigation.

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