I remember my last day of work at the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. Like Craig James, I, too, was escorted out of the building after a brief and unexpected meeting where I was told I no longer had a job. Unlike Craig James, my last day was not a matter of the public interest. It was not required that a motion be passed through the House; there were no cameras manned by bored reporters whose ears perked up at the unexpected announcedment that two men — James and Gary Lenz — were put on immediate administrative leave (with pay and benefits, sorry, not fired) as the result of an ongoing criminal investigation.
(Side note: This is likely to be a long post, and unlike much else that’s written on this site, will have nothing to do with Shark Tank.)
No, my last day was on the whole quite benign, except for those who were left behind (“You were just gone,” a then-former co-worker said to me later). No one knew why I was removed, so, of course, that means my departure was rife for speculation — even though I’d only been in the job for a mere six months (seemingly creating few ripples in the basement offices where we toiled on behalf of — well, whom? In retrospect, it’s hard to say).
That was nine years ago now, but the memories came flooding back as the James and Lenz news broke. As usual, legislative media had to translate the drama for civilians who just Don’t Get How Big a Deal It Is. This is always an extraordinary sight: the entrenched, greying, and partisan press corp at the BC Legislature trying to tell people with normal jobs and real lives why this matters. But, perhaps falling into the easy excuse of “we don’t know what the investigation is about, or if it will even result in charges,” they didn’t try too hard. Perhaps they assumed that, like with most things that shake things up at the BC Legislature, the whole incident will become gossip and war stories for the closed door club of staffers and politicians of all parties.
But this time, it’s different. It feels different. Maybe it’s Darryl Plecas and Alan Mullen, the aide Plecas brought in 10 months ago to look into… well, we don’t know. But I will choose to characterize it as “how things run in the Legislature.” Maybe it’s because Plecas isn’t part of the old guard. He has years on this earth, but he’s new to the legislature, only elected in 2013. When the tenuous balance of power held by the incoming Green-NDP coalition was in doubt, Plecas, elected as a Liberal, volunteered to be speaker and gave up his party affiliation as a result.
If you think that didn’t upset some people, you need only to look at that article written today by Rob Shaw in the Vancouver Sun. If you’re cynical, as I became after six months in the bowels of the BC Legislature, you’ll read these paragraphs as the beginning of a smear campaign against the Speaker, and a defence of the men escorted off the premises. Guess who’s a member of the old guard, the entrenched power network, and who’s the new kid on the block trying to break through those damaging, undemocratic walls.
“James has worked in the building for almost 30 years. Lenz is a former RCMP officer and Canadian security official, who had a high security clearance level. James has said neither man has been told what they are accused of doing.
“The investigation by Plecas is the latest controversy surrounding his role as speaker. He was ejected from the B.C. Liberal party last summer after accepting an offer from the Greens and NDP to become speaker under their new power-sharing agreement.
“The Liberals accused Plecas of lying to them repeatedly about his intentions to take the job, no-showing meetings and hiding out in the chamber alone until the last minute to avoid the repercussions of turning on his party. Plecas now sits as an independent.
“Plecas is also expected to be targeted for a recall campaign by unhappy Liberals in his riding.”
I might have written these paragraphs differently. For example:
“In 2013, James ran afoul of the BC Auditor General by refusing to immediately follow the Auditor’s request to disclose details of thousands of Legislative Assembly financial transactions after the Auditor’s scathing report on the body’s finances. James later admitted he was the recipient of a mysterious payout of funds only discovered after the Auditor’s report in 2012-2013.”
“Plecas holds degrees criminology and a Ph.D. in higher education from UBC. He was a faculty member at the University of the Fraser Valley.”
There are more details I could put there. But I think it makes the point. The BC Legislature press corp is a little like our very own Fox News. Making stuff up with hefty spin to suit their purposes. And given that penetrating the wall between the Legislature and the rest of the world is so hard to do — i.e., convincing your neighbour that This Actually Matters — they get away with it, and have for decades. Decades.
But maybe not this time. Because we’re different, all of us as British Columbians. We’re stretched to our financial limits. The corruption that has pumped up housing prices and led us all feeling exhausted, on edge, is no longer distant, because our home lives are no longer as comfortable as they once were. Maybe, finally, the power structure is starting to crack, because maybe those that have held it in place are starting to get tired, too.
As for me, and my tales from the Legislature — maybe that’s a story for another time. The James and Lenz inquiry could go on for years. We’ve all got time.