Bringing oversight back: Green Party house leader on the behind-the-scenes work to ensure accountability at the B.C. legislature
Green Party House Leader Sonia Furstenau emerged from last week’s meeting of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC) to learn that much of the meeting’s work — discussing the “appropriate steps” for releasing the redacted LePard report to both MLAs and the general public — had all been “for naught.”
Someone had already leaked the report.
“Something like that — when a report gets released while we’re discussing it — undermines a lot of the work and the trust that’s had to be built on that committee,” she told BC Today. “[LAMC] has shown that it is willing to do the work, it is willing to grapple with very complicated situations that we’ve been in for the last year.”
That, in Furstenau’s eyes, bodes well for the future of the legislative assembly after more than a year of investigations, allegations and suspicion.
No more ‘rubber stamp’
As house leader for her party, Furstenau joined LAMC as a freshman MLA; she had just three LAMC meetings under her belt when former legislative clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were placed on leave in light of an RCMP investigation into their conduct.
In the 11 months since their removal, LAMC has met twelve times — more than it did in the three years prior.
“It was an update committee: here are the things that are being done, approve, we move on,” Furstenau said of the first three LAMC meetings she attended.
The shakeup began when Darryl Plecas became LAMC’s first independent chair, following his selection as Speaker. Plecas’ independence plus a third political party at the table shifted LAMC meetings towards proactive policy production, according to Furstenau.
“I think [Plecas] needs to be commended for choosing … to bring to light some very worrying things that were happening in this place,” she told BC Today. Subsequent reports, notably those produced by former Canadian chief justice Beverley McLachlin and Auditor General Carol Bellringer, outlined a policy vacuum that LAMC is now working to fix.
“So much of what happened was either because there was no policy, or because the policies were ignored, and there was no oversight,” Furstenau said. “Fundamentally, there was a failure of oversight in this place.”
So far this year, LAMC has put forward six new policies — covering employee travel, gifts and honoraria and liquor control, among other issues — and revised four more, including a policy that outlines the procedures and expectations for creating and updating legislature policies.
Furstenau admits policy work is hardly “glamorous … or dramatic” — particularly when stacked against an ongoing criminal investigation, partisan backbiting and juicy innuendo. She expressed empathy for those who are frustrated at an apparent lack of action for those found to have run afoul of legislature policies — and potentially the law — but warned that satisfaction will not come from LAMC.
“It’s not the committee’s job … to be doing a criminal investigation,” she said. “The police are doing the criminal investigation and it’s been — as far as I understand — quite an active one.”
“It is the committee’s job to look at what’s happened and to identify where the failures happened that allowed for these behaviors and for … all of these failures, really, and to say, ‘Okay, how do we make sure that never happens again?’”
Changing the culture
Another policy that LAMC is developing — and in which Furstenau places a lot of hope — is the respectful workplace policy.
“When you look at so much of what the Speaker has identified in his expansive work on this — much of what he said is that employees didn’t feel safe to come forward,” she told BC Today. “There wasn’t a culture that said, ‘If you see something wrong happening, here’s the pathway to report it.’ That didn’t exist.”
“This policy says we’re moving into a new era — not only are we going to identify what is and is not acceptable behaviour, we are going to educate everybody who’s in this building and … are also going to have a process by which people who are subject to anything that fits … outside of this expected behaviour can have a path to a remedy for it,” she added.
Furstenau hopes the suite of policy introductions and tweaks leads to “structural change” at the legislature.
“I’m excited,” she told BC Today. “And I’m really, actually incredibly grateful to be part of what I think is a deep reformation of this institution.”
More to come
Since it broke late last year, the legislature spending scandal has delivered revelation after revelation, and Furstenau suspects there is still more to come.
“We’re not done uncovering things that need to be fixed,” she said. “There are going to be more things uncovered in the next stage of this, and they’re going to be uncovered in a very systematic way. But at the same time, we’ve now put structures in place that can address things that come up.”
Plecas has said his findings will land those involved in jail. Furstenau refuses to speculate.
“Where is this spending scandal going? I don’t know,” she told BC Today. “That’s really in the hands of the police and the prosecutors.”
“Where’s the work going in here? It’s going in a really positive and productive direction,” she said.