During the past summer of political uncertainty in B.C., there was a lot of earnest talk about protecting the integrity of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.
The legislature website describes the role this way: “The Speaker is neutral, responsible for making sure that all MLAs, no matter what party they belong to, are treated fairly and impartially.”
This claim has taken a beating this year, notably on March 16, in the last question period before the spring election. NDP leader John Horgan was pressing then-premier Christy Clark on huge corporate donations to the B.C. Liberal Party, amid loud and ugly heckling, even by B.C.’s coarse standards.
B.C. Liberal MLA Linda Reid’s weak performance as Speaker was ending that day, and she apparently gave up even the pretence of neutrality. Reid admonished “members on both sides” to behave, and in a move that should have got him expelled, Horgan turned on her.
“Members on both sides?” he snapped. “What are you talking about? They’re braying like donkeys and we’re quiet.”
Horgan was right. A small thing, but it illustrates the state of the people’s house today. Which brings me to the new Speaker, suddenly independent Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas.
After the B.C. Liberal Party cancelled his membership Saturday, Plecas granted a softball interview to a Vancouver newspaper. He allowed that he secretly negotiated a deal to become Speaker and help prop up the NDP-Green alliance so the people can have stable government.
What a guy.
Plecas is a central figure in the post-election drama. Elected in 2013 by his party’s brand, he had no hope of making Clark’s cabinet, dominated as it was by Fraser Valley veterans Mike de Jong, Rich Coleman and Mary Polak. Now as Speaker, Plecas gets a $50,000 raise to a cabinet minister’s salary.
Plecas was repeatedly wooed by the NDP and Greens during the summer to take the Speaker job, and give their precarious minority one more vote. This would of course provide vital assistance to the new government to undo 16 years of B.C. Liberal policy, so Plecas rejected it as an unthinkable betrayal of the party and voters who supported him. And rightly so.
At a party retreat in Penticton after the B.C. Liberal government was defeated, Plecas threatened to sit as an independent if Clark stayed on as leader. Apparently looking for an excuse to exit, Clark not only quit the leadership on the spot, she vacated her Kelowna West seat too. That’s two valuable gifts for the NDP-Greens, from two unlikely sources.
NDP house leader Mike Farnworth handled talks with Plecas. He’s a hero to his party and didn’t dirty his hands in the process. It was Plecas who misled his party and constituents to cover his tracks.
And so this is how Plecas begins his term as the symbol of fairness and integrity.
Interim B.C. Liberal leader Coleman, himself a chronic, bullying abuser of legislature debate rules, was asked if he could respect Plecas in his new role. “I respect the position, but not him,” he replied.
Green leader Andrew Weaver’s contribution to all this was to gloat, and to misrepresent Plecas’s action as some sort of noble gesture to work collaboratively across party lines. He accused the B.C. Liberals of “acting like high school students” because they didn’t applaud Plecas for his betrayal.
A recall campaign in Abbotsford South is already gathering steam. It remains to be seen if Plecas will last the two years he needs to collect his suddenly enriched MLA pension.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @tomfletcherbc