B.C. legislature rekindles relations with Guyana

Burnaby North MLA travelled to Guyana for the May 9-11 Commonwealth Parliamentary Association training seminar

Photo of Janet Routledge (3rd from right) and Artour Sogomonian (2nd from right) at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in Guyana (CPA HQ).

A backbench NDP MLA and the legislative assembly’s clerk assistant left damp B.C. and travelled to a conference in the sunny South American birthplace of B.C.’s first colonial governor.

But they are not disclosing how much they spent on the trip.

Janet Routledge (Burnaby North) and Artour Sogomonian travelled to Guyana for the May 9-11 Commonwealth Parliamentary Association training seminar.

The hybrid in-person/virtual meeting also included representatives from Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and organizations like ParlAmericas and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. 

Routledge was a keynote presenter for a session on parliamentary scrutiny. Another NDP backbencher, Ronna-Rae Leonard (Courtenay-Comox), appeared via web-conference in her role as the deputy chair of the legislature’s committee of the whole. 

Guyana was the birthplace in 1803 of James Douglas, governor of the Colony of British Columbia from 1858 to 1864.

“Approvals for this particular trip were provided by the Speaker and by me in accordance with the respective travel policies (one for members, one for staff),” said Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd.

Last December, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC) approved this year’s $283,000 budget for interparliamentary relations, which includes $60,000 for MLA and staff visits to Guyana and to receive delegations from Guyana. 

Speaker Raj Chouhan and Routledge did not respond for comment. Ryan-Lloyd and Sogomonian refused to disclose the approved budget for the trip.

“Details of any legislative assembly expenditures for travel by Ms. Routledge and Mr. Sogomonian, including receipts, will be posted on the legislative assembly’s website as part of our [first-quarter] proactive disclosure later this year,” Ryan-Lloyd said.

The approved budget and preliminary expenditures should already be known internally. The 2019 employee travel policy states that all international trips must be pre-approved using the employee travel pre-approval form, which includes cost estimates.

There was no mention of the junket in the minutes of the most-recent LAMC meeting on March 30.

In early 2017, then-Speaker Linda Reid, then-Deputy Clerk Ryan-Lloyd and Hansard director Rob Sutherland travelled there to sign an “interparliamentary co-operation” twinning agreement. Ryan-Lloyd said at the time the budget was estimated at $10,000 and her share of accommodation and airfare was around $3,000. When the expense report was disclosed, it showed BC Liberal Reid billed taxpayers $3,835 for airfare, an airfare upgrade, accommodation and meals. 

Craig James was the clerk at the time of the Reid-led trip. He had visited Guyana in 2015 and 2016. 

In late 2018, the de facto CEO of B.C.’s legislature was suspended and escorted off the property. Then-Speaker Darryl Plecas and his chief of staff Adam Mullen had called-in the RCMP to investigate corruption by James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, who both retired in 2019 after separate reports confirmed their misconduct. 

In late 2020, James, but not Lenz, was charged. The BC Liberal-appointed clerk stood trial in B.C. Supreme Court from Jan. 24 to March 3. He pleaded not guilty to three charges of breach of public trust and two charges of fraud over $5,000, but did not testify in his own defence. 

In the closing statements of a case that weighed heavily on travel spending, Special Prosecutor Brock Martland said that James seemed to have been “constitutionally incapable of walking past the gift shop without going in and purchasing souvenirs, which he kept for himself, but charged to his employer.”

On May 19, Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes is scheduled to deliver her verdict.