VICTORIA — Thursday began with the house leaders for the three parties in the legislature trying to manage a crisis precipitated by Speaker Darryl Plecas.On the Wednesday afternoon, Plecas had announced his intentions, in a lengthy meeting with representatives of the New Democrats, B.C. Liberals and Greens. He signalled that he was seeking data on hard drives at the legislature and hiring an outside provider of forensic services, all the while pounding the table and airing suspicions about “corruption” in the legislature security staff.Never mind that the recent report from Beverley McLachlin, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, had rejected many of Plecas’s allegations about misconduct at the legislature and criticized the Speaker himself.Far from being chastened, Plecas pushed back against McLachlin, even characterizing the findings as “stupid” at one point.So Inspector Plecas was back in investigative mode, secure in the view that he could, as he put it, march into offices anywhere in the legislature buildings and request hard drives with nothing to stop him.That had the B.C. Liberals wondering if they should secure their own offices and caucus room against invasion by the Speaker or one of his staff.I had the same thought Wednesday evening, watching the Plecas chief of staff Alan Mullen and an unidentified operative, roaming the halls of the legislature, ducking in and out of offices with technical gear, all the while refusing to answer questions about what they were doing.
B.C. legislative Speaker and Abbotsford MLA Darryl Plecas (left) and his chief of staff Alan Mullen.
Mike Bell /
The climate of fear was reinforced by the spectacle of acting clerk of the legislature Kate Ryan-Lloyd, targeted by Plecas in his data-gathering drive, leaving the Speaker’s office in tears.Asked later to account for the tears, Plecas replied: “Kate is very sensitive about these issues.”Against that backdrop, NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth, Liberal Mary Polak and Green Sonia Furstenau convened their meeting at 8 a.m. Thursday.They discussed putting the Speaker on notice in writing about their concerns and trying to rein him in.But their meeting broke up without final agreement. As the day wore on, the prospects for them working together diminished, particularly when the B.C. Liberals breached confidentiality by releasing Polak’s notes of the previous day’s exchanges with the mercurial Plecas.When the legislature itself convened at 10 a.m., Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson lost no time putting his concerns about Plecas’s conduct on the record. The Speaker, presiding from the chair, thanked him for his remarks, which went nowhere.The house did establish a search committee for a permanent replacement for Craig James, who was allowed to retire as clerk following the critical findings of the McLachlin report.Named to the committee by their respective parties were New Democrats Garry Begg and Mitzi Dean, Liberals Polak and Mike de Jong, and Green party Leader Andrew Weaver.The latter appointment generated some consternation.Both New Democrats and Liberals are on the record as viewing acting clerk Ryan-Lloyd as the front-runner for the permanent post. They fear Weaver harbours significant reservations about her and the committee verdict must be unanimous.There is concern, too, that because of the rough treatment Ryan-Lloyd has endured under Plecas, she may not even apply for the job — which would be a major embarrassment for the assembly.At midday the B.C. Liberals reached out to the New Democrats with an offer to put forward one of their number as Speaker, replacing Plecas.The Speaker does not vote except to break ties. Thus, the offer would decrease the Liberal voting power by one while returning Plecas to ordinary MLA status, where he would add a vote to the government side.The proposal foundered for two reasons.Current legislation provides no mechanism (short of a general election or death) to remove a Speaker who does not want to resign.Nor would the New Democrats trust a Liberal to apply the rules fairly in the event he or she were elected Speaker.The latter doubts are well grounded. Liberal MLA Joan Isaacs already serves as assistant deputy speaker. When a key procedural matter came up while she was serving in the chair earlier this year, she ignored precedent and the advice of the clerk, and voted with her party.“Who cares?” groused the Liberal chief of staff, Spencer Sproule, when I flagged Isaacs’ procedural bias as a bad precedent.In any event, Premier John Horgan rejected Wilkinson’s offer shortly after he made it, expressing not the slightest doubt about Plecas’s conduct.“Darryl Plecas is the Speaker of the legislature and he will be so until such time as he decides not,” he told reporters, leaving it to the house leaders to deal with the matter further.“As much as I like sticking my nose in everybody’s business, I am obliged to let this run its course and that’s what I intend to do,” said the premier, adding, “I appreciate that it may appear I’m being dodgy on this.”Since he brought it up, yes, it does seem dodgy. But that was where the government left matters at the end of the day.As for the Liberals, at the end of the day they rose individually in the chamber, one after the other, to register a protest, arguing that the Speaker’s conduct constitutes contempt of the legislature.This being the last day of the session, he’ll need to be watched between now and when the house resumes in October.firstname.lastname@example.orgCLICK HERE to report a typo. Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email email@example.com.