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MLA Darryl Plecas shocks Liberals by taking job as Speaker

Update: Speaker Darryl Plecas has been removed from the B.C. Liberal caucus. Read the full story here [link] Original story Interim Opposition Leader Rich Coleman has accused B.C.

Update: Speaker Darryl Plecas has been removed from the B.C. Liberal caucus. Read the full story here [link]

Original story

Interim Opposition Leader Rich Coleman has accused B.C. Liberal MLA Darryl Plecas of betraying his party by agreeing to serve as Speaker of the legislature.

On Friday morning, the legislative clerk announced that Plecas was the only MLA to put forward his name for the job of presiding over debates.

Coleman said Plecas’s decision was tantamount to crossing the floor, since it effectively assures the NDP-Green alliance of a voting majority in the legislature for months, and possibly years, to come.

“The caucus had agreed and everybody had committed, including Mr. Plecas, to not run for Speaker,” Coleman said. “So to change your mind and not inform me when you change your mind until after the fact, I would still think that’s a betrayal.”

The Speaker’s selection has taken on critical importance since the May election, in which none of the parties won a majority of seats.

An alliance of 41 NDP MLAs and three Greens teamed up to defeat the Liberal government and its 43 MLAs in a confidence motion in June.

The alliance initially had a one-vote edge.

If a Green or NDP MLA had become Speaker, it would have left the two sides deadlocked at 43 votes apiece, requiring the Speaker to break ties.

Christy Clark’s resignation as an MLA and Liberal leader gave the NDP-Green alliance more breathing room — at least until a byelection is held to replace her.

With Plecas as Speaker, the NDP-Green alliance has 44 votes to the Liberal’s 41, giving it a voting majority, even if the Liberals keep Clark’s Kelowna West seat.

Coleman said Plecas had reassured him as recently as Thursday morning that he planned to submit a form by 6 p.m. declining to put his name forward for the job.

When Plecas failed to submit the form, Coleman said he spoke to Plecas for an hour Thursday night trying to persuade him to change his mind.

Coleman said Plecas has not offered an explanation for why he decided to take the job. “Frankly, all you can take from that is that somebody didn’t tell me the truth.”

The Liberals initially indicated that Plecas had been removed from Liberal caucus, but withdrew that statement. Coleman later clarified that Plecas had “effectively” left the caucus, as the Speaker does not attend caucus meetings.

“Basically, when you tell your colleagues that you’re not going to do something, they take you at your word, you break your word, you go do it, become the Speaker, you de facto already went and joined the NDP,” he said.

Coleman said Plecas’s Abbotsford South riding association will have to deal with the issue, and he speculated that Plecas could face a campaign to recall him as an MLA.

In keeping with tradition, Plecas put up mild resistance as he was led to the Speaker’s chair by Government house leader Mike Farnworth and Opposition house leader Mike de Jong.

NDP and Green MLAs applauded, while the Liberals sat in stony silence.

Plecas then offered his thanks for the “great honour” of being selected Speaker.

“In keeping with the tradition of this high office, I will endeavour at all times to carry out my duties with fairness and integrity,” he said.

NDP Premier John Horgan congratulated Plecas on his appointment.

“I am so delighted that you’ve taken up the challenge of keeping us honest, keeping us fair and keeping us on course,” Horgan said. “Of course, for the people of B.C., this is not about partisanship. This is about a new government and a new opportunity.”

Coleman spoke next, but refrained from congratulating Plecas. Instead, he spoke about the importance of the Speaker’s role.

“As Speaker, your job is to protect the integrity of the institution and always to act honourably,” Coleman said.

“There will be times when the legislature becomes raucous, and the Speaker must have the fortitude to make decisions guided in this chamber by things that happened over the last hundred years. Mr. Speaker, we hope you live up to those standards.”

Coleman later said it would have been hypocritical for him to offer congratulations.

“I’ll respect the chair; I don’t have to respect him,” he said.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said he was “thrilled” by Plecas’s appointment and criticized the Liberals for failing to applaud.

“What happened today with, clearly, the B.C. Liberal MLAs being told not to clap was so lacking dignity it did not become the MLAs in the legislature on the Liberal side to do that,” he said. “They should be ashamed of themselves.

“Mr. Plecas is somebody who is greatly respected. He has the highest ethical fibres in him and that is what we need in the Speaker. None of this partisan stuff.”

Weaver said he contacted Plecas after Plecas told the Abbotsford News last month that he had threatened to resign if Clark remained as Liberal leader. The newspaper reported that Plecas “felt Clark and her political staff didn’t listen enough, weren’t willing to let politicians speak their minds, and should have used B.C.’s surpluses to address social concerns in the province.”

Weaver said he asked Plecas if he would be interested in the Speaker’s job and Plecas indicated that he was. Weaver said he alerted the NDP. “Obviously, they continued forward.”

Weaver said he didn’t know for sure that Plecas would be Speaker until Farnworth told him just before they entered the house Friday.

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— With files from Amy Smart