Opinion

Plecas Kills BC Liberals’ Faint Hopes of Quick Return to Power

Expect more MLAs to follow Christy Clark out the door, and four years of NDP government.

By Bill Tieleman 12 Sep 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Email him at weststar@telus.net, find him on Twitter, or visit his blog.

“This is the end, My only friend, the end. Of our elaborate plans, the end.” — The Doors, “The End”

The dramatic decision of Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas to become Speaker against BC Liberal Party orders is far more than a story of betrayal or rebellion.

Plecas’s move signals the end of the BC Liberals’ faint hope clause and the death of their elaborate plans to defeat the New Democrats in the Legislature, win in the resulting election, and return triumphantly to government. The NDP and Greens can now count on 44 votes in the Legislature; even if the Liberals win the byelection to replace Christy Clark, they will nave 42 votes.

Plecas has likely ensured Premier John Horgan will hold his new title for a full four years.

And the BC Liberals’ extreme anger is far more about losing power indefinitely after 16 years of arrogant rule than it is about Plecas rejecting their threats.

It’s an end to their entitlement, but it’s also a likely end to many former Liberal cabinet ministers’ political careers because several are likely to resign rather than face four long years in opposition just to have another chance at winning back government.

Think about it — you were once a powerful cabinet minister, with staff fulfilling your orders, an entire ministry responding to you, and an extra $37,000 to $53,000 a year in salary plus a significant increase in your pension. The term “honourable” before your name, the ability to influence public policy, the prestige, the car — it’s a heady and seductive job.

And then you face the oblivion of opposition with no timeline for getting back to the cabinet land of milk and honey.

No one in the BC Liberal caucus has yet announced he or she is done with politics (except Clark), but it will surely happen in the months ahead.

If you are Mike de Jong and have been an Abbotsford MLA for 23 years and minister of finance, health, forestry, labour, aboriginal relations, and attorney general over 16 years, why stick around?

Shirley Bond has been a cabinet minister for her entire 16 years in office — including serving as deputy premier. Why would she endure the long commute from her riding of Prince George-Valemount to sit in Victoria and watch NDP and Green Party MLAs run the show?

And why would Linda Reid, the Richmond South Centre Liberal MLA and the Legislature’s longest-serving member at 26 years, stick around after having served as Speaker and a cabinet minister?

Then there are the younger, newer MLAs who thought running and winning for the BC Liberals in 2017 meant a key cabinet job and are just sitting in opposition.

Jas Johal, the former Global TV reporter and BC LNG Alliance communications director, and Ellis Ross, the former Haisla Nation chief councillor, were both cabinet ministers for just six weeks before the NDP took over.

Do they have the stomach and stamina for at least four years of grinding it out on the opposition benches while passing up other career opportunities?

And both Johal and Ross won by narrow margins, leaving them vulnerable to defeat in the next election and making alternative options more attractive.

Even interim BC Liberal leader Rich Coleman has to be thinking of an exit strategy once the party chooses a new leader in February. Coleman — whose extreme anger at Plecas was palpable in interviews — has been an MLA since 1996 and served as deputy premier as well as heading multiple ministries.

And unlike Bond and most former cabinet ministers, he and de Jong know the frustrations of being opposition critics from their earlier days facing NDP governments in the 1990s.

Clark didn’t think twice about bailing out of both her leadership role and her Kelowna West seat without spending a single day in the Legislature as opposition leader.

While she left the party and her caucus in the lurch, not one of her MLAs faulted Clark for giving the NDP an increased margin in the Legislature until a byelection is held, which could take up to six months.

But Plecas has been condemned as a traitor and thrown out of his party for merely serving as the neutral Speaker — talk about hypocrisy.

At least one former BC Liberal MLA is backing Plecas. Moira Stilwell, the former Vancouver-Langara MLA and cabinet minister, took to Twitter to support the new Speaker’s integrity, saying, “Daryl is above score settling. He was elected to serve all BCers and will do a great job of that. Has brains, character and integrity.”

And when it comes to Coleman’s allegations that Plecas’s biggest sin was simply not keeping his word that he wouldn’t be Speaker, why didn’t Liberal MLAs denounce then-Premier Gordon Campbell when he introduced a Harmonized Sales Tax despite the party denying in writing to industry groups that it would do so?

It wasn’t until Campbell’s popularity tanked due to the HST that some Liberal MLAs revolted, threatening to quit the caucus if he did not resign — which he quickly did. Keeping your word isn’t that important, it seems.

And hearing the word betrayal from Coleman is almost amusing since he was part of the move to deny Moe Gill the 2013 BC Liberal nomination in Abbotsford South to make way for a party-appointed candidate: Darryl Plecas.

Coleman also was talking about betrayal when then-Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen quit the Liberals to join the Conservative Party.

In the end, Clark’s self-centred resignation will be the model for more veteran BC Liberal MLAs who will abandon ship, bringing more byelections to increase the NDP’s safety margin and ensure at least a four-year term in office.

After all, it’s easier to pummel Plecas than face the music when “The End” is the only song playing.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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