If there’s one thing the recent report on the legislature spending scandal by former chief justice Beverley McLachlin makes clear, it’s that where rules are lax and oversight is next to non-existent, the less honourable parts of human nature will feel entitled to take advantage.
Entitled, in fact, sums up the attitude of now-former legislature clerk Craig James and it comes through loud and clear in the report. James deemed himself entitled to expensive suits, luggage, and personal use of legislature property – including the much-discussed wood splitter – plus other perks and hefty benefit payments that he had no reason to receive, all on a don’t-ask-don’t-tell basis.
Now it appears James will keep the substantial cheques he arranged himself, as part of a hastily announced retirement. Politicians from all three parties agreed with the deal, if only to make the whole mess go away.
Rules about spending were flimsy and largely unenforced. The committee that was charged with oversight rarely met. It’s clear that until Speaker Darryl Plecas began poking around, nobody bothered with too much questioning of the legislature staff’s activities.
The report did provide a few bright spots. One employee, presented with a substantial cheque for non-existent benefit, questioned it and sent it back. But the report makes it clear, we can’t depend on everyone’s instincts to favour right over wrong. The buck stops with our elected representatives, who must do a better job of oversight of legislature staff and of drafting clear rules in the ways they are allowed to spend public money.
The status quo clearly doesn’t cut it – wood splitter or not.
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