Les Leyne: A haunting beginning to a new sitting of the legislature

The B.C. legislature resumes sitting on Monday for a brief fall session. The government has a few policies it wants to advance, and the Opposition has a few (hundred) complaints it wants to air.

But Speaker Darryl Plecas’s zealous pursuit of his former top executives and the fallout from that campaign is still in play. It might not figure prominently on the agenda, but it’s going to hang over a lot of the proceedings.

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The last time MLAs gathered was May 30 and it’s worth remembering how toxic that last encounter was. The moment might have flashed by too fast to absorb for some, because it was overtaken in the rush of events.

But it’s striking to recall the entire Opposition caucus standing up one by one to officially register their disgust with Plecas.

The script most of them used was: “I wish to disassociate myself for all purposes, including any subsequent litigation from these actions which I believe constitute a breach of the individual and collective privileges of this House and a contempt for this house.”

Hearing 38 MLAs in a row make that pronouncement was unprecedented. But that doesn’t mean much anymore, because the whole ongoing story is unprecedented.

The “actions” at that point included a weird after-hours computer security sweep of the legislature ordered by the Speaker that upset senior legislature staff and prompted the Opposition to post an overnight sentry in their offices.

That was just a sideshow flowing from the main event, which was the Speaker’s ongoing pursuit of ex-clerk Craig James and suspended sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz.

James had resigned a month earlier after former Supreme Court of Canada justice Beverley McLachlin reviewed the case and validated Plecas’s complaints about James’s overly-entitled spending habits.

Developments since then don’t suggest the Opposition has changed its mind about the Speaker.

Most New Democrats have some doubts as well, but they’ll back Plecas to the maximum extent, because their hold on power is more secure if they don’t have to install a government member in the chair.

The latest twist this week was when Lenz gave up the fight to return to his job and retired. McLachlin had cleared him, but he still faced other investigations, instigated by Plecas.

A final judgment on Lenz can’t be delivered until the special prosecutors on the case deliver reports. But there are lots of questions about how his case was handled. McLachlin herself raised some of them.

She took time to rap Plecas for going overboard while absolving Lenz of misconduct.

“[The Speaker] seemed to have seen his task as to build a credible criminal-type case … rather than promptly confronting and correcting the administrative practices that he questioned. He focused on an investigatory line of inquiry at the expense of his duty to ensure that the affairs of the Legislative Assembly were properly administered on a current basis.”

The Opposition says Plecas later erupted at a meeting and called McLachlin’s report “pathetic” and referred to her work as “stupid,” something he denies.

Also dragged into the fray was auditor general Carol Bellringer. She was tasked with diving into the scandal and came up with a report last week confirming lax spending controls all around. But she didn’t find anything to take to the police and Plecas expressed some disappointment with her work, saying it wasn’t as “forensic” as he’d hoped.

A few days later she quit midway through her term, for “personal reasons.”

Make of it what you will. Her personal reasons are for her to consider. But it’s not inconceivable that she’s personally upset that the Speaker would publicly criticize her work.

As the legislature resumes sitting next week, B.C. is down one clerk, one sergeant-at-arms, one deputy sergeant-at-arms (he too, retired rather suddenly) and one auditor general.

There’s lots to argue, but it will have to come between jousts about the forest industry collapse, housing prices, an Indigenous reconciliation bill and other goings-on.

As Liberal MLA Dan Ashton put it at the suspension of hostilities on May 30: “This will continue to haunt us. It will not only haunt us during the time that we’re away, but it is going to haunt us for our tenure.”

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