Speaker’s meltdown raises the stakes
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.