Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas was asked to be speaker by representatives of the NDP and Greens. Photo: Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News

EXCLUSIVE: BC Liberal MLA Plecas confirms that he threatened to quit party if Clark stayed leader

Abbotsford South MLA said leadership didn’t listen and government didn’t do enough on social issues

Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas confirmed Friday that he threatened to quit the BC Liberals in July if Christy Clark stayed on as leader.

Plecas told The News that Clark and her leadership team’s “top-down, small-circle” style and unwillingness to make decisions that might cost the party votes prompted his ultimatum, which took place at caucus retreat in Penticton shortly before the Premier announced her resignation.

Plecas said that it was clear Clark had no intention of stepping down before he made his declaration in Penticton.

“I disagreed with the leadership, I wanted to see change and I wanted to make my point very forcefully because anyone who’s familiar with the history of the current leadership, there was no chance she was ever going to resign,” he said.

Plecas said he felt Clark and her political staff didn’t listen enough, weren’t willing to let politicians speak their minds, and should have used B.C.’s surpluses to address social concerns in the province.

Plecas was first elected to the provincial legislature in 2013. A prominent criminologist, Plecas was considered a star candidate when he first ran for office. But although he led a panel on crime reduction in 2014, Plecas was never appointed to cabinet, holding only a pair of lesser parliamentary secretary positions.

He said his inability to have his voice heard, rather than any desire to hold a cabinet position, was his chief frustration with his first term in office.

“People need to have the opportunity to say what they really think,” he said. “What is the point of having somebody represent a local area, if you can’t speak freely about what you think the concerns are in your area?”

Plecas said that without a leader and leadership staff willing to listen, “it’s going to be the same old top-down, everybody’s told what to do. I think that’s what concerns the average citizen when they say, ‘What difference does it make, nobody’s listening anyway.’ Well, there is some truth to that, and we need to get past that.”

In an extended interview with The News, Plecas spoke at length about the BC Liberal leadership he served under and suggested decisions were often made with political calculations front-of-mind.

“When people think of a leader, one of the things that comes to mind in politics is ‘We need someone who can win.’ Well, yeah, but for me that’s secondary to the right person, because … it’s not just about having the leader win, it’s about having people win in every one of their constituencies and doing the right thing. And that’s hard. You can do things for a political reason, or you can do things for the right reason, and you have to have a moral compass and a guide that says, you know, what’s most important is always trying to do the right thing. And that’s not always easy and that’s not realistic to expect somebody’s going to be able to do that every single time, but you definitely have to have that as your guidepost, and you definitely have to have a leader who expects just that from every other elected person in the party and the people who work.”

Having such a leader, he said, “is going to result in a very different kind of way of doing business.”

Asked if the previous leadership had that guidepost he referenced, Plecas said:

“Not for me they didn’t.”

Plecas said most voters want officials to govern and try to appeal to the entire swath of voters, rather than a party base.

“We pride ourselves in being a big tent, but operate like we’re in a pup tent,” he said. “If you want to appeal to people, what better way to go about it than to say, look, deep in our bones we’re going to try to accommodate every single interest and be truly mindful of issues across the board, rather than a sort-of very strict perspective on things.”

The interview wasn’t the first time recently Plecas has suggested in public that his party needs to head in a new direction. On election day, he told supporters that the BC Liberals needed to be more “humble” and had to find ways to help the less fortunate. He reiterated that Friday. “We have had a mindset that has not been especially helpful to the social side of things,” he said. “You can’t have $6 billion of surpluses and not be doing things for people in need. To me, that’s not a stretch to do that.”

He said that could have won more support, but that that’s not why decisions should be made.

“I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying that it’s all about winning and all about support because first and foremost I think anyone who’s elected to office has to say, ‘I’m here to do the right thing. That’s the very first thing. I’m here to be as open and truthful as possible. I’m here to examine issues in a very evidenced-based way.’”

He said individual biases and viewpoints will influence decisions, “but that’s a very different thing than saying, ‘We need to win, we need to be in government, we need to do whatever it takes to do that.’”

Plecas gave as an example the BC Liberals refusal to ban trophy hunting in the province.

“In my mind, trophy hunting is fundamentally wrong. Like, it is wrong to kill an innocent animal simply so you can put its head on the wall. So, I don’t need to hear about all the political ramifications for that. I say, OK, there’s a collection of people out there whose livelihoods are affected by that. For me the question becomes, OK, how do we do this in a manner that minimizes the negative impact on that.”

Asked if the political ramifications determined the policy, Plecas said, “Let me just say, we ended up not supporting a ban, and you know, Adam Olsen from the Greens has proposed a ban … Well I want to be able to stand up and say, you know what, I agree with Adam Olsen.

“I don’t believe for a minute that most of my constituents believe that it’s OK to shoot a bear just because you want to put its head on the wall. We’re not against hunting [for food], but when you start constructing a response that says there could be some political ramifications we could lose votes – because you could lose votes – then I’m saying, lose those votes, but do the right thing.”

He said he’s made his views known in the past both to colleagues and the leadership about his need to speak his mind but that, “Things being what they are, that doesn’t work very well under that old regime.”

On Thursday, freelance reporter Bob Mackin reported that two sources had said Plecas had threatened to quit the BC Liberals and sit as an independent if Clark remained in power.

Asked if that was the case Friday, Plecas paused for some time, chuckled, then said “Yes, I did.”

Plecas said “I don’t believe I can move forward and honestly do the very best for my constituents under the old leadership. It was just that simple.”

Plecas was reluctant to share details, though.

“I don’t really want to get into the specifics because she’s gone, let her leave with grace. You don’t have to beat people up.” But he said Clark’s apparent inclination to remain as leader forced action. “It was pretty clear she was going to stay on. It’s pretty harsh to say ‘I’m leaving’, but, you know, sometimes you have to be harsh.”

Asked if the future of the upcoming BC Liberal leadership race will influence his decision to remain in politics, Plecas said: “I’m looking forward to seeing a leader that expresses the kinds of behaviours and attitudes and mindset that I’m talking about. I think that’s long overdue in politics in general, at any level and I would stay in politics as an opportunity to demand that, because it’s harder to do when you’re on the outside.”

But Plecas said there is a chance for change in the style of leadership at the top of the BC Liberals.

“I definitely believe there are people in our caucus … who would make a wonderful leader.”

Plecas, for his part, said has no leadership aspirations himself “whatsoever.”