Darryl Plecas had his eyes on the road in Abbotsford as he steered his Volvo station wagon through a snowstorm on a winter’s night in 1996 — but his mind was always on the facts, the details, the finest particulars of our conversation.
I was in the passenger seat, grabbing a ride home after our latest meeting at Finnegan’s, a popular pub next to the University College of the Fraser Valley, where at the time Plecas was a criminology professor.
We had met over drinks a few times to discuss possible collaboration on a book about the Abbotsford Killer, the bizarre case that saw Terry Driver kill teenager Tanya Smith, almost kill her friend, Misty Cockerill, then taunt the police and paralyze a city with fear via threatening phone calls and desecration of Smith’s grave.
I had covered the case from the morning of the murder through to Driver’s conviction. During that case and others, Plecas was the go-to criminologist who added expertise to news stories.
He felt the peculiar elements of the criminal case contained the ingredients for a book. I agreed. For whatever reasons, our discussions, while fascinating, never led to the idea becoming a reality.
In the years since, I have watched from afar as Plecas authored and co-authored books, the latest of which, The Essentials of Leadership in Government, examines how government professionals can make better decisions — an appropriate subject matter considering the damning report Plecas released last week. I have also watched him get elected MLA, suffer the tragic loss of an adult son and become estranged from his political party after accepting the role of Speaker of the B.C. Legislature.
Plecas’ report on alleged spending violations by legislature clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz has led to predictable outrage and has placed the B.C. Liberals in an uncomfortable position. Angry that Plecas accepted the Speaker’s role in the summer of 2017, thereby stabilizing the NDP/Green government alliance, the party gave him the boot, rendering Plecas an Independent MLA for Abbotsford South.
In the partisan world of politics, the B.C. Liberals despise Plecas for his decision, but they are faced with the reality that he has likely exposed significant corruption that has been allowed to fester under the noses of those charged with representing our tax dollars — Liberals, New Democrats and Greens alike.
In addition to his report that highlights alleged spending misconduct by James and Lenz, there was the revelation by Bob Mackie of The Breaker that Plecas had intended to quit caucus shortly after the 2017 election, alleging then-premier Christy Clark demanded that MLAs constituency staff — who are supposed to be independent of any political affiliation — who did not campaign for the party in the election campaign be fired.
(Plecas confirmed Mackie’s story in an interview last week with the Abbotsford News.)
Clark, readers will recall, also falsely claimed she had the support of every single B.C. Liberal MLA when she resigned in the summer of 2017, refusing to admit Plecas demanded she step down during a post-election party gathering in Penticton.
While Plecas initially said he would not accept the Speaker’s role, he later explained his about-face, claiming party brass instructed him to say as much and referencing some soul-searching after Clark’s resignation. Still, criticism of his no-I-won’t/yes-I-will is warranted and he will need to deal with that as he encounters angry voters in his riding.
There will be partisans who will never forgive Plecas for accepting the Speaker’s role. There will be others who view the move as a selfless gesture made for the good of the province, a decision crafted outside of political party loyalty.
Having known Plecas back in the day, and knowing people today who remain close to him, I’d lean toward the latter opinion. Plecas’ decision stabilized government for more than two years and has led to what may be an exposure of too many pigs with their snouts in troughs funded by us.
Because of Plecas’ decision to occupy the Speaker’s chair, but despite the work he has undertaken to expose possible spending misconduct, a recall campaign against him continues.
But the man behind the recall effort — Rob Roy of Langley — is off the mark when describing why he is trying to unseat Plecas.
“His voters specifically voted him in as a Liberal representative for their riding, “ Roy told the Province. “He walked across the floor to take the Speaker’s seat self-servingly so he could get the bigger pay.”
Actually, voters cast ballots for candidates, not political parties. If it was the latter, we’d have party lists, precisely the form of elections so opposed by B.C. Liberals. And Plecas did not “walk across the floor.” He did not join another party. He is, in fact, an independent Speaker, a rarity in B.C. and one beholden to no party. As for the claim Plecas made such a monumental decision for a few dollars more? Ridiculous. The easy path would have been for Plecas to ignore the wrongs he saw and continue to be elected in perpetuity in one of the province’s safest ridings for the B.C. Liberals.
No, Plecas undoubtedly spent many hours focused on the facts, the details and the finest particulars of the situation, just as I saw him do repeatedly two decades ago.
The Speaker deserves to be congratulated, not castigated.