Les Leyne: To respect and deference for the Speaker, add outright fear

Speaker Darryl Plecas opens the spring sitting of the legislature today as a different official than the one who presided over its adjournment Nov. 27.

The legislature rose just a week after its two top officers were suspended due to a police investigation. A lot of questions were hanging in the air about how Plecas handled it. Today, he’s likely the highest-profile Speaker in B.C. history after he released detailed allegations of misconduct against the pair. His comments in a round of interviews suggest he’s going to become even better known.

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He and his chief of staff Alan Mullen are in the midst of a victory lap the likes of which no one has ever seen before.

Plecas arranged the suspensions on Nov. 20 and was unable to provide any details as to why. The officers protested their innocence and skepticism developed about Plecas’s handling of the case (this space included).

Then he erupted at a committee meeting a month later and cited rampant mismanagement and all manner of wrongdoing, to the point that if a forensic audit didn’t make people “throw up,” he’d quit.

Then he delivered the first batch of details on Jan. 21 — a lengthy annotated report on the spending habits of clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz that alleged lavish overspending and misconduct.

They tried to rebut the claims last week with detailed responses, so the situation is somewhat up in the air.

But that hasn’t stopped Plecas and Mullen from pressing their case. They’ve made a series of remarkable claims about still-unspecified matters that suggest there is much more to come.

The wall of silence that came down after the suspensions has vanished. Everybody clammed up then because two special prosecutors and the RCMP were involved in looking at evidence that Plecas and Mullen had developed.

That’s been the standard “no comment” rationale in this country forever.

But apparently it no longer applies. From a media perspective it was always applied too broadly. So explaining what’s going on regardless of investigations is a positive.

But the assurances the duo has been giving out for the past week will make for a tense legislative session.

They told CTV’s Scott Roberts that it’s not just paid staff in the crosshairs, elected officials are now suspects as well. Mullen said: “Given what I’ve seen, over the past year, yeah. There’s people going to jail.”

He told Postmedia’s Lori Culbert that “this could turn into the single biggest item in Canadian political history.”

The Speaker’s initial report was just a hand grenade. The big bombs are still to come, he said.

They said they’re getting one call a day from whistleblowers with interesting stories about alleged financial wrongdoing. They’ve got 20-plus people now. Their stories have yet to be verified, but stretch back 15 years.

Referring to the skepticism that followed the suspensions, Plecas said: “It was a pretty serious beating for a couple of months. And I’m under no illusion that we’re going to continue to take that beating.”

He said the police investigation is much broader than people think and involves a lot of really serious issues.

All of which will change the tone of the legislative sitting dramatically. MLAs are bound by law and custom to show the Speaker deference and respect. They bow to him every time they cross his path.

The new element is that now they’re likely terrified of him, as well. He’s the ultimate wild card. He has supreme authority over the legislature precinct and he’s spent a year quietly exercising it to the full extent.

And while further details are still scanty, he is not shy about giving strong hints that he’s come up with something big.

The B.C. Liberal Opposition will have the most trepidation about what’s in store. They were in government well before the initial reform effort took hold in the legislature six years ago. So whatever Plecas and Mullen are talking about will likely involve them to some degree.

And there was bad blood between them and Plecas well before he started keeping notes on the legislature officers’ trips.

Speakers are usually above the fray, but Plecas will be right in the middle of this one.

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