Speaker’s melt­down raises the stakes

Times Colonist - - Comment - LES LEYNE [email protected]­colonist.com

Even if you take Speaker Dar­ryl Ple­cas at his word af­ter his re­mark­able melt­down this week, it’s hard to see a route by which he can de­liver what he promised.

That is: A “laun­dry list” of se­ri­ous con­cerns about man­age­ment of the leg­is­la­ture. Wrong­do­ing so bad it will cause “out­rage.” Bad enough to re­quire snap foren­sic au­dits that he promised on the spot, along with a per­sonal pledge that if they don’t make the pub­lic throw up in re­vul­sion, he’ll quit.

He put his job on the line — twice for good mea­sure — to the all-party leg­is­la­ture man­age­ment com­mit­tee. The MLAs’ shell-shocked re­ac­tion ob­scured a strik­ing side­ef­fect from his broad­side. That’s the num­ber of se­nior staff who were sit­ting right at the ta­ble when Ple­cas went off, and are now sit­ting un­der the thun­der­head he pro­duced.

He es­sen­tially guar­an­teed an up­com­ing ex­posé of fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion in front of no fewer than five se­nior pro­fes­sion­als whose jobs are all or in part to ac­count for ev­ery nickel of spend­ing at the leg­is­la­ture.

Au­di­tor gen­eral Carol Bell­ringer was sit­ting at the ta­ble as he spoke, along with a staff mem­ber. Her of­fice has the fi­nal sign-off au­thor­ity on the bud­get. Two longserv­ing clerks flanked him as he spoke, each with man­age­ment and some au­dit re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for the build­ing. The leg­is­la­ture fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, re­spon­si­ble for day-by­day over­sight, was at the ta­ble along with the be­wil­dered MLAs.

Ever since clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were sus­pended Nov. 19 due to the mys­te­ri­ous po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it has been dif­fi­cult to imag­ine Ple­cas and his spe­cial as­sis­tant, Alan Mullen, came up with some­thing that that ar­ray of dou­ble- and triple-check­ers over­looked.

Nonethe­less, Ple­cas also as­sured ev­ery­one peo­ple would even­tu­ally be “cheer­ing” for Mullen, and that he and his friend did ev­ery­thing “per­fectly.”

There are a few hur­dles in the way of his big re­veal. One is that crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

How does he pro­duce such a bomb­shell with­out vi­o­lat­ing the sanc­tity of the tra­di­tional cone of si­lence around that probe?

His of­fice has been cit­ing the need for that since the start.

Now he plans some kind of end-run around it that will re­veal a huge scan­dal with­out af­fect­ing the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion that he prompted.

He told MLAs he can man­age the feat. It would be com­pelling to watch him ex­plain to the two spe­cial pros­e­cu­tors how he’s go­ing to pull it off.

An­other is­sue is whether the mi­nor­ity-gov­ern­ment po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics will block the Speaker from fol­low­ing the route he has set. The MLAs were ut­terly blind­sided by his abrupt dec­la­ra­tions. The NDP and Green mem­bers were hop­ing to ride out the meet­ing on the “in­ap­pro­pri­ate to com­ment or take steps while the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der­way” po­si­tion.

But Ple­cas barged off in a di­rec­tion no one an­tic­i­pated. They’re likely scram­bling for a way to rein him in.

The head count in the house means they want to pre­serve him as Speaker for as long as pos­si­ble. But he just promised to quit if the scan­dal doesn’t make peo­ple lose their lunch.

The NDP-Greens might try to head him off. But he chairs the com­mit­tee and runs the leg­is­la­ture. There are very few checks on his au­thor­ity.

More po­ten­tial com­pli­ca­tions arise from how abruptly his plan was hatched. It was de­vised in the heat of the mo­ment, and the strain he is un­der be­came ob­vi­ous at the meet­ing.

“I’ve been re­duced to a car­toon char­ac­ter,” he protested.

For some rea­son, he can’t de­liver un­til Jan­uary. So there are six weeks avail­able for re-thinks, for process re­quire­ments to kick in and for other con­sid­er­a­tions to de­velop.

There’s no doubt­ing his pas­sion­ate be­lief there is some kind of deep-seated scan­dal. His de­ter­mi­na­tion to ex­pose it is un­ques­tioned.

But he ap­pears to have over­sold a story that he might have some dif­fi­culty in de­liv­er­ing.

Just So You Know: He was wrong on one point. Ap­par­ently re­fer­ring to the an­i­mos­ity the B.C. Lib­er­als have for him af­ter he bolted their cau­cus to be­come Speaker, he said: “We all know what’s go­ing on here.”

In fact, very few peo­ple have the slight­est clue.

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