VICTORIA — Abbotsford MLA Darryl Plecas survived a day of chaotic debate over his future as speaker of the legislature Thursday, retaining his job despite allegations he’s bullying staff, seizing computer data he’s not entitled to and personally disparaging the “stupid” investigation conducted by former chief justice Beverley McLachlin.The Opposition Liberals attempted to replace Plecas by offering Premier John Horgan one of their MLAs as Speaker — a move that would have given the minority NDP government an even stronger grip on power in the house.“We’ve offered up a B.C. Liberal member to act as a speaker on a temporary basis so it does not disturb the minority government,” said Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson.“We respect the will of the voters and the structure of our parliament and the majority government should carry on for the meantime. But we have to clear the air.”The overture was immediately rejected by Premier John Horgan — though he stopped short of actually expressing confidence in Plecas.“Darryl Plecas is the Speaker of the legislature and he will be so until such time as he decides not to be,” said Horgan. “That’s the way the place functions.”The house adjourned Thursday afternoon for the final day of the spring session, with Plecas still seated on the legislative throne. MLAs aren’t scheduled to reconvene until October.However, before MLAs left, every Liberal MLA stood in the house to raise a personal point of privilege, disassociating themselves and accusing Plecas to his face of “contempt of this house.”“There’s a pallor hanging over this house,” said Liberal MLA Dan Ashton. “This will continue to haunt us.”Plecas tried to cut off the insubordination, at which point many Liberals walked out of the chamber in protest.LISTEN: Rob Shaw and Mike Smyth talk about the Court of Appeal’s decision on the pipeline reference question, Jody Wilson-Raybould’s decision to run as an independent, the costs of investigating the legislature scandal, and the surprisingly moderate and popular performance of the NDP government as we reach the end of the spring legislative session.
Listen and subscribe to our podcast from you mobile device:via Apple podcasts | via Google Play | via StitcherIs the player not working? Click here.“The Speaker has just cut off individuals in the legislature from standing to make a point of personal privilege … and he did it because he thought they were going to say things that called into question his investigation,” said Wilkinson.It was an extraordinary 24 hours of political drama at the capital, which began Wednesday evening with Plecas hiring an outside company to copy the hard drives of the legislature’s two senior most officials — acting clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd and acting sergeant-at-arms Randy Ennis.Ryan-Lloyd left Plecas’s office in tears Wednesday, and was then part of a meeting involving government house leader Mike Farnworth and top officials from the premier’s office.Ennis, meanwhile, announced he was retiring.Both positions are officers of the legislature and report to MLAs in the house. The Speaker is not their employer, though he has overall responsibility for the legislative building.“It is simply the case of saying we need to make sure that we have data secured,” Plecas told reporters. “We have ongoing investigations. We do not want an instance where we have data not available to investigators. It’s that simple.”He said the backups were “voluntary” and called Liberal criticism “ridiculous.”
House leader Mary Polak looks on as Mike Farnworth answers questions about the speaker situation and McLachlan report during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, May 16, 2019.
CHAD HIPOLITO /
THE CANADIAN PRESS
The Liberals disputed that and released a detailed 16-page written account of a three-hour meeting Plecas held with Liberal house leader Mary Polak, Green house leader Sonia Furstenau and NDP MLA Gary Begg on Wednesday.Polak told reporters Plecas displayed “bullying” behaviour, as he kept hammering the desk with his hands and shouting.“He said, ‘I can walk into offices and request hard drives all over the legislature,’ I have the authority and I will scream it from the rafters,’” recalled Polak.Plecas called a recent investigation into legislature misspending conducted by McLachlin “pathetic,” according to Polak.Plecas promised to conduct his own probe under B.C.’s police act, and called the armed sergeant-at-arms legislative security force “corrupt,” according to Polak’s notes.He also called McLachlin “stupid” for believing sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz in his explanation of misspending allegations Plecas had levelled against him. McLachlin cleared Lenz of wrongdoing in her report this month, and Lenz, who is suspended with pay, has asked for his job back.“I know how to make sure he doesn’t get his job back,” Polak’s notes quoted Plecas as saying. He added later: “I’m not letting them get away with this.”Plecas said legal advice given to MLAs by labour lawyer Marcia McNeil (who helped sort out the government health firings scandal) was “a bunch of garbage,” according to Polak.The Liberals said Thursday they no longer had confidence in the security of their legislative offices or computers. A staffer was so worried Plecas might try to access their offices, he slept in the Opposition leader’s office Wednesday night. The Liberals held a caucus meeting at a nearby hotel Thursday while opposition offices were swept for recording devices.The Greens largely sidestepped the issue. Furstenau would neither confirm nor deny Polak’s notes were accurate. She said it was a private meeting.Furstenau said there is lots of “rumour and innuendo” in the building, and she wanted to focus on getting the proper policies in place to prevent situations like this from developing again.Laurie Windover, a former RCMP officer and director at e-Forensic Services Inc. ― which provides services such as litigation support, “e-discovery collection” and forensic analysis of preserved data ― said his firm signs non-disclosure agreements with clients and, when asked if he was working at the legislature, said he “cannot confirm or deny any of our clients.”The firm, which has offices in Vancouver and Calgary, lists some of its successful cases on its website. Among cases for government, it helped an enforcement agency by installing software on a computer to covertly monitor a user; it helped a school board image 22 computers after-hours and analyze them for inappropriate use; and it prepared a laptop to capture data from a suspect and covertly transmit it to an agency.
Speaker Darryl Plecas in the halls of the B.C. Legislature building on May 30, 2019. Photo: Courtesy of CTV Vancouver
Plecas, meanwhile, denied he said the things attributed to him in the Liberal notes.“That is absolutely ridiculous,” he told reporters.“You’ve heard what I said. I described her as an eminent jurist. I said her terms of reference were too narrow, that didn’t include everything that needed to be considered, it’s that simple.“I had wished it could have been a broader terms of reference. I had wished she’d had a greater opportunity to follow up on some of the issues we said were important. I wish she had considered the witnesses we had put forward for consideration. That didn’t happen.“Is there more to do? Absolutely. You know there is other investigations going on.”The RCMP continue to investigate former clerk Craig James and suspended sergeant-at-arms Lenz. James was found by McLachlin to have committed four counts of employee misconduct over more than $250,000 in retirement benefits he tried to award himself, as well as thousands of dollars on suits, luggage and a legislature wood splitter he used at home. In response, James retired.Horgan said the public should still have confidence the legislature is functioning.But Wilkinson said the situation is untenable. He also admitted there does not appear to be a legal mechanism to remove Plecas from office. And it’s apparent the three parties can’t cooperate for a unanimous — though largely symbolic — motion of non-confidence in the house.“We cannot have a legislature where senior women are leaving the speaker’s office in tears, where hard drives are being seized in the dead of night,” said Wilkinson. “We need to have the confidence of the public so we can get on with the affairs of serving British Columbians.”firstname.lastname@example.org/robshaw_vansun— with a file from Nick EaglandTimeline of recent events at the B.C. LegislatureTuesday, May 28• e-Forensic Services Inc. receives a letter from a Victoria law firm confirming it is authorized to go to the legislature Wednesday to take “data preserving images of some computer hard-drives,” as well as a laptop used by Speaker Darryl Plecas. The firm is asked to store the hard drive images and other materials until instructed by Plecas or his legal counsel.Wednesday, May 29• 6:45 p.m. — House adjourns.• 7 p.m. — Government house leader Mike Farnworth and Premier John Horgan’s senior staff meet in a conference room at the legislature while acting clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd emerges from Speaker Darryl Plecas’ office in tears.• 7:30 p.m. — Ryan-Lloyd goes to her office and then meets with Farnworth, civil service head Don Wright and Horgan’s chief political advisor Geoff Meggs.• 8 p.m. — Plecas comes out of his office and tells Postmedia, “We are taking steps to safeguard data around here. It is nothing more than that.”• 10 p.m. — Postmedia publishes a story after learning that Plecas has hired an information technology firm to clone hard drives of senior staff members at the legislature.Thursday, May 30• 10 a.m. — House resumes.• 10:15 a.m. — Premier John Horgan announces that acting sergeant-at-arms Randy Ennis and his deputy, Ron Huck, are leaving at the end of this week.• 10:30 a.m. — Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson describes Plecas’ hard-drive cloning as an intrusion, says “arbitrary and unaccountable actions must stop.”• 11:30 a.m. — Farnworth announces an all-party committee to recruit a new permanent clerk of legislature, replacing former clerk Craig James, who retired after a spending scandal.• 11:45 a.m. — Plecas tells reporters that the hard-drive cloning is voluntary and he is just trying to make sure data is “kept secure,” calls criticism “absurd” during heated news conference.• 12 p.m. — B.C. Liberals ask Horgan to name a Liberal MLA as speaker in order to replace Plecas, Horgan declines the offer.• 1 p.m. — Notes taken by B.C. Liberals house leader Mary Polak during a May 29 meeting with Plecas are released, quoting Plecas as calling the Beverley McLachlin report “pathetic” and “deficient,” and calling her “stupid” for believing sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, who she found not to have committed misconduct during the spending scandal.• 2 p.m. — Green house leader Sonia Furstenau tells media she will neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the B.C. Liberals notes, choosing not to comment at all on a ‘private meeting.’ But she does say she continues to have confidence in Plecas as speaker.• 5 p.m. — Every Liberal MLA rises one by one on a point of privilege dissociating themselves from Plecas and accusing him of contempt of the house. Plecas tries to cut them off, at which point many Liberals leave the chamber.• 5:30 p.m. — Finance Minister Carole James helps Plecas cut off the personal points of privilege, and NDP MLAs clap and pound on their desks.• 5:40 p.m. — Wilkinson says MLAs will continue making points of privilege, but says many have left because there is no point trying to participate in the chamber with an “arrogant” speaker who won’t listen to them.• 6:10 p.m. — The house adjourns the last day of the spring session of the legislature after Lieutenant-governor Janet Austin arrives to give royal assent to the bills. MLAs are scheduled to sit again in October.