By KRIS SIMS
B.C. Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
DARRYL PLECAS has given British Columbians a gift that keeps giving all year long: government transparency.
Before you stop reading because that sounds as dry as a Griswold Christmas turkey, remember that if it weren’t for the former speaker of the legislature, we wouldn’t know about the wood splitter and whale-watching party bought on our dime.
B.C.’s former speaker-turned-undercover-detective earned his way on to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Nice List this year for his work to uncover the abuse of taxpayers’ money.
The CTF released its annual Naughty and Nice list, and some familiar names are on the scroll.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau landed on the Naughty List for increasing taxes. Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole’s nose grew three sizes when he broke his promise to fight carbon taxes.
Members of Parliament are on the Naughty List for taking two pay hikes while thousands of Canadians were losing their jobs and businesses during the COVID-19 mess.
Former governor general Julie Payette topped the Naughty List because she’s still eligible for a fat pension and expense account even though Rideau Hall became a Grinch-like working environment and she left early.
The Nice List is more of a challenge to write than the Naughty List, but it was easy to applaud Plecas.
Shortly after he became speaker in 2017, Plecas said he noticed something was weird with the workplace.
The speaker is one of three officers of the legislature, along with the clerk of the house and the sergeant-at-arms. The clerk and the sergeant-at-arms aren’t elected, but the speaker is chosen from elected MLAs.
The officers are the people in the black-and-white robes in the middle aisle of Westminster parliamentary systems around the world.
Plecas said when he moved into his new role as speaker, he noticed that the offices had copious amounts of alcohol on-site, and it wasn’t just rum for seasonal egg nog.
He also said that his colleagues were eagerly planning their next international trip – all at taxpayers’ expense.
Alarmed, Plecas started making copies of travel itineraries, expense reports and receipts, keeping them all in a file. He was making his own list and checking it more than twice.
The average tax-paying British Columbian had no idea this was happening because, back then, officers of the legislature never had to post their expenses.
A year into the investigation, the clerk and the sergeant-at-arms were escorted off of the legislature grounds by Victoria Police. Plecas released the first of his bombshell reports a few weeks later, detailing shocking levels of spending on luxury items.
Tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars blown.
B.C. taxpayers paid for video cameras, Apple TVs and trips to the U.K. and Hong Kong. They paid $714 for a man’s wristwatch billed as luggage.
They paid $2,434 for a whale-watching trip expensed as “tsunami awareness training,” and Seattle Mariners Baseball tickets billed as “evacuations training.”
Infamously, taxpayers paid more than $3,000 for a wood splitter and more than $10,000 for the trailer to cart it around. What justification? If there were an earthquake, officers of the legislature could rescue trapped people by chopping the fallen beams apart with the firewood splitter.
The impact of Plecas’s work will be felt for years.
Today, the former sergeant-at-arms no longer works at the legislature. While charges have yet to be proven in court, the former clerk faces three counts of breach of trust and two counts of fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.
Officers of the legislature must now post all of their travel and hospitality expenses online so taxpayers can see what they’re paying for.
Investigations are ongoing, and Plecas continues to call for stronger accountability in Victoria. His place on the Nice List is well-deserved.
Kris Sims is the B.C. Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.