VICTORIA - The Speaker of British Columbia's legislature is defending the tens of thousands of dollars she spent on recent renovations and upgrades, saying the expenditures are part of an agenda to make the historic building accessible to all and its proceedings more civil and transparent.
The expenses filed by Linda Reid and made public this week included $48,412 for a new desk and touch-screen computer in the legislative chamber, $13,449 for a new members' lounge in the legislative library and $734 for a display case for coffee, muffins and other stacks.
In a statement to the media Wednesday, Reid acknowledged the public wanted an explanation for the spending at the legislature, which she called the "people's building."
"The public also deserves answers for the expenditures that have been made," she said. "The principle that all members, staff and visitors should be able to access the legislature buildings is the basis of what I called the 'accessibility agenda.'"
Reid said the new Speaker's console will make it easier for MLAs, including those who are disabled, to let her know when they want to talk. It also improves communications with the clerk's table and allows her to simultaneously view events in other committee rooms, she added.
Since the legislature is a historic building, said Reid, the upgrades must respect that heritage and complement the existing structure, too.
Reid said an existing lounge, the Ned DeBeck Lounge, already exists but not all members are able to access it, or even the legislature's library.
She said a new ramp to the library was completed in January, and a new gathering room that all members can use was added.
The Speaker, however, also addressed other expenditures, including the new dining room's drapes, which she said were last replaced in 1996. She said the most most-recent upgrades to furnishings in the Speaker's office happened in 2000.
Reid said workers also removed heritage chairs from storage and reupholstered them.
"I know that all British Columbians are facing difficult financial and budgetary challenges, and expect us to use taxpayers' dollars prudently," she said.
"British Columbians also expect us to ensure that the legislative assembly is accessible to all members, and that we make decisions in an open and transparent way."
Reid said she will make recommendations next week that will bring "greater oversight, rigour and transparency" to spending tied to the legislature.
-- by Keven Drews in Vancouver