As a former BC Liberal colleague looked on, Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas showered praise on NDP cabinet minister Selina Robinson at a supportive housing announcement Tuesday in his riding.
The event gave the Speaker of the BC Legislature a rare chance to publicly voice an opinion on the actions of the government of the day.
Plecas has kept a relatively low-profile since assuming the Speaker of the Legislature’s chair in controversial circumstances last fall, after which he was booted from his party. The move was labelled a betrayal by Plecas’s BC Liberal colleagues. Plecas, meanwhile, said he wasn’t a proper fit with the Liberals and that he was attracted to the non-partisan nature of the Speaker’s job, which sees him preside over debates in the legislature and try to maintain order among unruly politicians.
On Tuesday, Plecas – now an independent – spoke at an announcement that will see the construction of 80-units of supportive housing at two separate locations. The Riverside Road site where the announcement was made is located within Plecas’s riding, while the supportive housing location is located a stone’s throw away, in the Abbotsford West riding of BC Liberal Mike de Jong. De Jong was absent but Abbotsford-Mission MLA Simon Gibson was present for the event, but did not speak.
Plecas praised the City of Abbotsford, BC Housing, and the two organizations that will run the facilities: the Lookout Housing and Health Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society. Then he saluted the province.
“One of the things I feel very good about saying is, it’s what’s done by government and the minister,” he said. “It’s a government that’s responsive to needs and especially people who are most in need. We are so lucky to have Selina as the minister because helping people is in her bones. She truly, truly gets it. She knows we don’t have a society unless we’re helping everyone and helping each other – and that’s not always easy to do, there are all kinds of things that hurt being able to do that.
“Man are we off to a good start, and I know we can look forward to this facility and the one on Livingstone road being extremely well-managed because anyone who knows these people know that Lookout Society and Elizabeth Fry do a spectacular job.”
UFV political science professor Hamish Telford said there didn’t appear to be anything improper about Plecas’s comments, given the context surrounding an event in his own riding. Telford says that while Plecas must act non-partisan while acting in his speaker’s role, he also remains MLA for the region and thus has license to speak about issues affecting his constituents. It would be another matter, Telford said, if Plecase were to make such statements at an event in another riding.
At most, the comments could be read as an “implicit slight” directed towards the former BC Liberals’ performance on the homelessness file, Telford said. It wouldn’t be the first time. Even while he was still a BC Liberal, Plecas suggested his party could have done more on social issues.