Speaker Darryl Plecas kicked out of Liberal caucus

Less than a day after being named Speaker of the legislature, Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas has been tossed from the B.C. Liberal caucus.

Plecas, who was sworn in as Speaker on Friday, was kicked out of the party after its executive voted Saturday to revoke his membership.

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In a letter to party members, B.C. Liberal Party president Sharon White said Plecas broke a trust between himself and his constituents.

“Constituents must be able to trust their elected representatives. Party members must be able to trust those who hold positions of leadership in the party. And members of the legislature must be able to trust one another,” White wrote.

“[Friday] in Victoria, that trust was broken when the MLA for Abbotsford South accepted the opportunity to serve as Speaker of the house, despite repeated promises and assurances that he would not do so.”

White said the party executive acted on a request by the Abbotsford South riding association.

“None of us are happy about these events. As B.C. Liberals, we pride ourselves on working hard together, sticking together when times get tough and having respectful debates within a strong, united party,” she wrote.

She said Plecas’s decision gives the NDP government the chance to “control the House for the foreseeable future — even though our party won the most seats and the most votes in the election.”

The selection of a Speaker, who is supposed to be neutral and only votes when there is a tie, was noteworthy given the slim margin between the political parties.

The Liberals formed a minority government after winning 43 seats in the May election to the NDP’s 41 and the Green Party’s three, but were defeated in a confidence motion when the two other parties agreed to work together.

That led to the resignation of former Liberal premier Christy Clark as party leader and MLA, leaving her party with 42 seats.

A byelection is to be called in her Kelowna West riding, which is considered a safe Liberal seat.

Had either the NDP or Greens provided a Speaker, and if Kelowna West returns a Liberal to succeed Clark, the NDP-Green alliance and the Opposition Liberals would have been deadlocked with 43 votes apiece.

Saturday, Plecas told Vancouver Province columnist Mike Smyth that his change of heart came after the collapse of the Liberal government.

And he suggested his stepping into the role was the right thing to do, both for himself and the province, as it offers the chance for a stable government.

“There is some stability for British Columbians that wasn’t there before,” he told Smyth.

Political scientist Kim Speers said the Liberal decision to expel Plecas shows that politics is about power and the desire to have it and maintain it.

“The Liberals’ choice to revoke Plecas’s membership demonstrates that a political party will allow only so much leeway in a member’s actions and words in a tumultuous time where the Liberal Party attempts to rebrand, rebuild and find a new leader,” said Speers, a professor at the University of Victoria.

Plecas, who publicly criticized Clark’s leadership, surprised the Liberals with his jump into the Speaker’s chair.

“The Liberals did not want to wait for strike three in an era where the image and communication narrative aspects of the Liberals are being tightly controlled,” Speers said.

Interim Opposition leader Rich Coleman said Plecas all but removed himself from the party when he took the job as Speaker, since the Speaker does not attend caucus meetings.

Coleman called Plecas’s move a betrayal of the party, as Plecas did not tell the caucus he intended to take the job until after the fact.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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