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Darryl Plecas: Why I took the Speaker’s job

Darryl Plecas says he feels great after breaking the chains of the Liberal party and accepting the dream job he always wanted: Speaker of the B.C. legislature.

“It was the right thing for me and the right thing to do,” Plecas told me Saturday, minutes after the Liberals angrily booted him out of the party for taking the post.

Plecas stunned his former Liberal colleagues on Friday by accepting the $150,000-a-year Speaker’s job, a shocking move that effectively handed the governing NDP-Green alliance an expanded, three-seat majority in the legislature.

The furious Liberals expelled him from the party ranks on Saturday through a rare “special motion” of the party executive.

“It’s like they’re saying, ‘if you don’t think like us, you don’t belong with us,’ so that’s disappointing,” Plecas said.

“But I’ve always told myself: Do the right thing. And if that means I have to sit as an independent and not win another election, so be it.”

Liberal leader Rich Coleman said Plecas double-crossed the party by taking the Speaker’s job after earlier promising not to do it.

“It was a total betrayal,” Coleman fumed.

But Plecas insisted the only reason he earlier said he wouldn’t take the job is because that’s what the Liberal party brass told him to say.

“That wasn’t really from me — that was from the premier’s office,” Plecas said, referring to former premier Christy Clark, who resigned in July after the NDP-Green alliance toppled her government on a non-confidence vote.

The Speaker is the non-voting, non-partisan referee of the legislature and Plecas — a second-term MLA and former criminology professor from Abbotsford — said it’s a job he always wanted.

“The Speaker’s job is an incredibly honourable role,” he said. “If somebody said to me, ‘What is the single best role a person could have as an MLA, especially for somebody from my background?’ That would be it.”

Plecas worked for eight years as a federally appointed prison judge.

“I heard over 5,000 cases, so I have a track record of being impartial in difficult circumstances,” he said.

“So when there was an opportunity to be Speaker, I had to choose. Am I going to do this, which I think is suitable for me and the kind of person that I am? Or am I going to continue having to restrain myself for years?

“I made the right choice.”

Plecas said he was moved by the good wishes he received on Friday when he took the job.

“Almost everyone from the NDP and the Greens came to see me and wished me well. I was flooded with hundreds of emails from people, saying thank you for doing this for the province.”

Even though Liberal MLAs sat silent and refused to applaud as he took the Speaker’s chair, Plecas said he knows they weren’t all against him.

“The black eye, or the negative side, was the reaction I was getting from the Liberal side. But I know precisely what it’s like. It’s not like everybody in caucus feels that way. Everybody is told how to behave.”

He said “a few” Liberal MLAs contacted him later to personally congratulate him, but he declined to name them.

“They would be hung if people knew,” he said.

Plecas said he understands many Liberals are unhappy with his decision, especially after he publicly rejected NDP-Green overtures to take the Speaker’s job in June.

In an interview at that time, Plecas told me: “I would never be Speaker without the blessing of my colleagues in caucus.”

But he said circumstances were different back then, and he changed his mind after doing a lot of soul searching following the collapse of the Liberal government.

“The Liberals were telling us back then that the NDP-Green alliance would be an illegitimate government. They even had a legal opinion saying that. And it wasn’t true.”

The Liberals are still furious at Plecas because his move gives the NDP-Green team-up a more stable governing majority.

“The NDP government will enjoy an expanded margin of seats that will enable them to control the house for the foreseeable future — even though our party won the most seats and the most votes in the election,” Liberal Party president Sharon White complained Saturday.

But Plecas turned the tables.

“The alternative thinking to that is that this gives us an opportunity to have stable government,” he said. “There is some stability for British Columbians that wasn’t there before.”

But in Plecas’s home riding, his former Liberal supporters are enraged.

“We were blindsided,” said Ron Gladiuk, president of the Liberal riding association in Abbotsford South. “He told us he wouldn’t do this. There are a lot of people here who worked hard to get him elected. He owes them an explanation.”

Gladiuk said angry Liberals in the riding are already demanding a recall campaign to kick Plecas out of office, though a recall effort can’t be legally launched until November 2018.

“He hurt the Liberals and helped the NDP and we’re shocked and dismayed about it,” Gladiuk said. “And we don’t know why he did it. Is it ego? Ambition? Is it because he gets a pretty good pay bump? We don’t know.”

But Plecas said he did it precisely for the people in his own riding, including the ones who are mad at him.

“I’m putting my constituents first,” he said. “This is the best way I can serve. It won’t be with the Liberals now, but maybe that’s for the best. I’m an independent guy.”

That won’t stop the Liberals from stewing in their bitter juices about it, while the NDP and Greens celebrate a stunning political power play.

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http://theprovince.com/news/bc-politics/darryl-plecas-why-i-took-speakers-job