Members of the legislative assembly of B.C. need to be asking vigourous questions about Tuesday’s suspension of the clerk of the legislature and the sergeant-at-arms, and particularly, the role of Speaker Darryl Plecas in the matter.
And if those questions are to be dealt with properly, can Plecas still act as the neutral arbiter in the House? His actions have further muddied the waters of a situation that is already impossibly murky.
The night before clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were abruptly suspended from their positions and escorted by police out of the legislature, Plecas briefed House leaders on the situation. Then he tried to have his friend, Allan Mullen, his “special adviser” who conducted an investigation into the actions of the two officials, named acting sergeant-at-arms.
Really? The Speaker, who is responsible to ensure the assembly’s established procedures and rules of behaviour are followed, is OK with cronyism? And it’s more than bizarre that he would suggest appointing an unknown someone who has just emerged from the shadows to announce that he has been investigating James and Lenz for nearly a year.
Opposition House Leader Mary Polak said she didn’t agree with Plecas’s request, and NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth agreed with her.
Good for them, but did that not raise red flags?
This is no way to run a legislature, and MLAs should be screaming that to the rafters, rather than huddling quietly like a herd of meek sheep. Media and the public are asking questions; so should the MLAs.
But that raises the concern of what to do when the questions are focused on the Speaker of the House. How can he be the neutral arbiter of legislative discourse when the discourse is about him? How can an MLA be assured of fair treatment if he or she is asking pointed questions about the actions of the Speaker?
Regardless of what Plecas knows or has done, even if his moves prove to be fully justifiable, for now his impartiality is in question. The optics are bad.
And the smell is even worse. This issue smelled fishy from the start, and the stench grows daily, because things quickly grow putrid when kept away from sunlight and fresh air.
True, the RCMP cannot conduct an investigation in public, but more needs to be revealed about the nature of the investigation. The silence creates a vacuum into which pours a flood of speculation and wild accusations, damaging lives and reputations, notwithstanding the assumption of innocence until guilt is proven.
A high-school student wrote a letter this week about his visit to the legislature, and about how he was dismayed by the boorish behaviour of the MLAs during question period. He’s right, of course. In parliamentary debate, civil behaviour too often gets short shrift in favour of partisan bickering and petty nitpicking.
But this is no petty matter. MLAs have every right to ask questions, and they should be doing just that, with much firmness. Their ability to do that will be severely hampered if Plecas is the one permitting the questions to be asked.
“The Speaker serves as a very necessary referee, ensuring fair play by all MLAs,” says the legislature’s website.
Does a referee blow the whistle on himself? We do not necessarily imply that Plecas would act unfairly, but he should not be put in that position. Fairness must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.