After Darryl Plecas challenged Christy Clark to quit as BC Liberal leader during the Penticton caucus retreat in July 2017, he prepared a news release that he eventually cancelled when she did resign.
theBreaker.news was first to report in August 2017 that Plecas was the catalyst for Clark’s departure after he threatened to quit the party and sit as an independent over the ex-premier’s leadership.
Now, the week before the Speaker is scheduled to tell an all-party committee he chairs the concerns he has about two suspended Legislature officials, theBreaker.news can exclusively reveal what was in that news release.
Specifically, that the Abbotsford South MLA objected to Clark’s plan to politicize every BC Liberal MLA’s constituency office.
A draft, six-paragraph version, dated July 27, 2017 — the day before Clark resigned — said the ex-premier’s decision to stay as leader was “focused solely on personal interests and not what is best for the Liberal Party and the people of B.C.”
The “final straw” for Plecas was Clark’s idea for all BC Liberal MLAs to fire their non-partisan constituency assistants and replace them with personnel “who would willingly engage in political activities to bring down the NDP.”
The plan had been discussed at a post-election caucus meeting. Plecas called that an “inappropriate view of public service employees’ independence and the disrespect for public resources.”
“My constituents expect me to represent their interests in an honest and forthright manner, and I cannot do that if my leader is calling on me to compromise my values and my integrity,” said the unpublished news release, obtained by theBreaker.news.
Constituency offices, according to B.C. Legislature rules, “must be operated on a strictly non-partisan basis and cannot be used to engage in or host partisan, political activities.”
Plecas declined comment when contacted by theBreaker.news.
Plecas aired his grievances on July 26, 2017 in a caucus meeting at the Penticton Lakeside Resort. Clark then left the room and the rest of caucus spent several hours debating the election campaign and discussing next steps.
Plecas had planned to publicly resign from the BC Liberals on July 27, 2017 by issuing the six-paragraph news release, but was convinced to give caucus a 24-hour reprieve. Clark dispatched Chilliwack MLA John Martin to act as a go-between in a bid to convince Plecas to ditch his plan. Martin, like Plecas, was a criminology professor before politics, the two are friends and they represent neighbouring ridings. Clark’s strategy didn’t work.
A source said that, on the morning of July 28, 2017, Plecas notified the Clerk’s office at the Legislature that he was resigning from the BC Liberals. A version of the news release, minus the paragraph mentioning the mass-firing of constituency assistants, was ready to be sent to reporters at midday.
Plecas’s resignation email was, coincidentally, followed minutes later by Clark’s own resignation to the Clerk’s office. So he rescinded his resignation from the party and cancelled the news release, agreeing to stay in the party if Clark did not say publicly that her caucus support was unanimous.
Clark, however, told reporters at a July 31, 2017 Vancouver news conference that none of her fellow MLAs wanted her to go. She said she made the decision on her own volition, after taking a walk on a beach.
“I talked to the caucus the day before, I asked them all, did they want me to stay, did they want me to go?” Clark told reporters at her final news conference. “Every single person in the room asked me to stay.”
That was not true.
From star candidate to demoted expert
Plecas was a star BC Liberal candidate in the 2013 electionn, recruited by Deputy Premier Rich Coleman. He defeated John van Dongen, the former cabinet minister and incumbent Abbotsford South MLA who defected to the B.C. Conservatives in 2012 over Clark’s ethics.
After the BC Liberals’ upset win over the Adrian Dix-led NDP, Clark named Plecas the parliamentary secretary for crime reduction, under Attorney General Suzanne Anton. A natural fit for the acclaimed criminology professor from the University of the Fraser Valley.
At the September 2013 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver, Clark announced Plecas would chair a Blue Ribbon Crime Reduction Panel that included ex-RCMP Western Canada Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass, ex-RCMP Commissioner Bev Busson and ex-federal deputy solicitor general Jean Fournier.
Plecas’s final report, “Getting Serious About Crime Reduction,” was released a week before Christmas in 2014, but it got scant media attention. The Clark cabinet’s approval for the Site C dam megaproject was the focus of government communications.
The 90-page report included six recommendations, such as more and better services for offenders who have addictions and mental health issues. Clark aides had wanted Plecas to cut back his report and delete the recommendations. Plecas stubbornly refused.
Just over a month later, on Jan. 30, 2015, Clark announced the elimination of Plecas’s parliamentary secretary for crime reduction role. She named him parliamentary secretary for seniors, under health minister Terry Lake.
On election night in 2017, Plecas told the Abbotsford News that the party needed to learn a lesson after losing its majority. It needed to become more humble and respectful of constituents.
“I think we have to speak to a broader group of people,” Plecas said. “It comes across sometimes that we are a very arrogant group of people. That’s not the case, but it sometimes seems like that.”
The frank comments did not sit well within the party. When the BC Liberals reconvened the Legislature after the 2017 election, Plecas was isolated from the rest of caucus in a seat beside the door.
The government eventually fell in the June 29 confidence vote, as the NDP and Greens defeated the Liberals 44-42 and Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon asked John Horgan to form the next government.
Plecas initially said he wouldn’t run for speaker, but was the only candidate on Sept. 8, 2017. He left caucus and the BC Liberals cancelled his membership in retaliation.
The first independent speaker in modern Canadian history does not rely on a party leader to sign his nomination papers, should he run in the next election. Nor has he been faced with casting a tie-breaking vote, as had been feared before Clark’s exit.
Early in his tenure as speaker, Plecas discovered improprieties at the Legislature that led him to call the RCMP who, in turn, asked for a special prosecutor to be appointed.
In an apparently unprecedented move, the assistant deputy attorney general, Peter Juk, retained two special prosecutors because of the potential size and scope of the investigation.
On Nov. 20, 2018, the Legislature voted unanimously to suspend clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz indefinitely with pay. They denied wrongdoing at a news conference the next week. Plecas vowed to reveal some of what he learned, without compromising the criminal investigation, when the Legislative Assembly Management Committee meets on Jan. 21.
“When I learned of this information, I felt a great duty to safeguard the integrity of this institution and be very mindful about why we’re all here,” Plecas told LAMC on Dec. 6. “That’s to make sure that public dollars are spent appropriately.”
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