Firestorm in legislature could leave Speaker’s reputation in ashes

I’ve never met a Speaker of a legislature whose hat size did not grow out of necessity in the first few months on the job.

It goes as so: A regular person at first squeezes and contorts into the requisite cultish personage, goes into character, then the head somehow swells.

Speakers galore seem subdued by a different epoch of privilege, their formality careering into pomposity, and their meagre self-understanding subsumed by massive self-importance. They are so retro that when they appear on television, the screen goes black and white.

Of course, they are there to attend to the menagerie that calls itself a political chamber, and they call upon history and chutzpah to abide protocol and occasionally digress from it. Every so often, though, the prim and proper goes zig and zag and down the chute.

Such is our current Victoria-based implied scandal spectacle, mercifully folded up this week like a cabin deck chair for the winter break – but only after the Speaker let the fireplace logs roll all over the living room floor. As the premier might say, it is lit.

Speaker Darryl Plecas was never much more than an asterisk in the Christy Clark government. He was, though, the one MLA who last year dared challenge the beleaguered premier when she claimed to have unanimous caucus support. He was clear: it was him or her to leave. Eventually it was both. For telling the truth, he was cast out, then called in from the cold to take a Speaker’s job he had only weeks earlier pledged he would never seek.

As far as anyone can tell, that’s when the hat started to strain at the temples.

Plecas brought in a buddy from his prison administration days, Alan Mullen, and assigned him to investigate the two senior non-partisan legislative administrators. Fast-forward seven months to a couple of weeks ago, when Legislative Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were marched out of their offices by Mullen and into the street. I rather expected that moments later there would be handcuffs, police cruisers, charges, bail hearings and defined allegations to back what the premier described as the shock he had received a day earlier in a briefing.

Instead, crickets and Franz Kafka clichés.

As I write this, two men with distinguished records as the top officers of our legislature sit in stasis – or at least say they do – with no particular clue about why they were relieved of duties and what the police investigation about them is about.

Process can be defined as a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. I looked it up.

In this case, the process of (a) hiring a pal and setting his fangs on two respected public servants without first asking them what the heck gives, (b) providing the most scant information to the political parties that had to agree in order to send said public servants packing, (c) trying to install that pal as a replacement, (d) saying nothing, nothing, nothing, (e) hiring former attorney general Wally Oppal to put a lid on nothing, nothing, nothing, (f) promising to tell us something, then again saying nothing, nothing, nothing, and (g) ragging the puck until the buzzer sounded on the legislature for more than two months, is little less than an abrogation of duty and yet another embarrassment by our political institutions of those it would wish to serve.

We have money launderers running loose and fentanyl producers in monster homes. For the sake of proportional representation in our justice system, James and Lenz had better be quite the crooks.

If they are, then they are also quite the actors. I watched their press conference last week three times to make sure I couldn’t spot a shifty eye, a glance at their shoes or a sweaty upper lip. Instead, they were excellent preliminary witnesses for the defence, and if they are not charged and convicted, I suspect it is not the last press conference at Fasken we will see.

Few people purportedly facing due process deserve this dishonour, but even more importantly, we do not deserve this comportment by a political outlier with oversized influence on a frail-in-numbers government. Either Mr. Plecas is a genius in hiding or a fool in plain sight.

Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.