The report looking into allegations of misconduct by senior officers of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly – released by Speaker Darryl Plecas last week – has turned heads all over the province. As was widely expected, the incidents detailed in the Plecas report have led to abundant debate on what to do next.
Research Co. was in field over the weekend, in an effort to get an early read on the way British Columbians are reacting to the report. For starters, a majority of residents (63%) say they have followed the Plecas report “very closely” or “moderately closely,” with residents aged 55 and over being particularly attentive (72%).
Some politicians and voters have expressed dismay at the speaker’s decision to continue tracking questionable expenses by Clerk of the Legislature Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz for months, instead of informing the proper authorities immediately. In our survey, a majority of British Columbians (57%) agree with the way Plecas acted, while 21% disagree and 22% are undecided.
It is important to note that there is no discernible party affiliation gap on the matter of Plecas’ behaviour, with 61% of BC New Democratic Party (NDP) voters in 2017, 60% of BC Green Party voters and 55% of BC Liberal voters endorsing the Speaker’s actions.
Respondents to the survey were also provided with four measures that could be eventually implemented to deal with what has been uncovered in the Plecas report. The most popular proposal, endorsed by 74% of British Columbians, is ensuring that all questionable spending outlined in the Plecas Report is repaid.
When the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act (FOIPPA) first came into effect, the Legislative Assembly was not defined as a “public body” and was therefore excused from the public’s requests. Seven in 10 British Columbians (70%) think the time has come for the provincial legislature to be subjected to public scrutiny under FOIPPA.
Two-thirds of British Columbians (68%) would make all expenses from every person who works in the Legislative Assembly available for public scrutiny on a searchable website. Implementing this measure must go beyond asking citizens to browse through incomprehensible and interminable lists of documents. There is a high level of support for making this process stress-free and convenient.
The most contentious of the four tested measures, albeit still backed by 59% of respondents, is establishing an outside entity to review and oversee all future expenses related to the Legislative Assembly.
British Columbia’s youngest voters – those aged 18 to 34 – are significantly more likely to support a form of outside oversight (69%) than those aged 35 to 54 (54%) and those aged 55 and over (56%).
Plenty has been written about the perceived disinterest of young voters in the political process. Adding a layer of transparency that goes beyond having politicians and public servants policing themselves would help immensely in allowing these young voters to regain faith in the system.
When it comes to assigning blame for the current state of affairs, British Columbians are significantly more likely to hold the previous BC Liberal government responsible (59%) than the current BC NDP administration (29%). As expected, voters of the two main parties are eagerly pointing the finger at their rivals.
No doubt it has been painful for many residents to go over the details of the Plecas report. Where we go from here will depend squarely on bridging the existing space between the realms of ethics and criminality.
Loose regulations have been exploited by political figures before, most infamously by some members of the Canadian Senate. The statements of judges can be devastating when discussing the ethical ramifications of a defendant’s actions, while at the same time notifying the public that no rules were broken, and no crime was committed. We must acknowledge that there is potential of a similar outcome arising after the Plecas report, which makes it extremely important for existing guidelines to be revised.
We are still expected to delve into pending audits and statements related to the Plecas report. The early reaction of British Columbians can be summed up succinctly. Most residents think the Speaker acted honourably, but the political polarization of the province is palpable when it comes to assigning blame.
Still, when it comes to the task at hand – amending the relaxed guidelines that got us here in the first place – there is unity and hope, regardless of which party voters supported in 2017.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.