Editorial: Treachery or a higher duty?

Sara Golling
By Sara Golling
September 10th, 2017

On Friday, September 8, Dr. Darryl Plecas, then a Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly, agreed to serve in the Legislature as Speaker.  His party promptly disowned him ― first, kicked him out of the Liberal caucus, then on Saturday, September 9, the Liberal Party executive  voted to strip him of membership in the Liberal Party of BC, according to a press release issued by Sharon White, Liberal Party of BC President.   Apparently he had “promised” not to serve as Speaker, under heavy pressure from his caucus. 

The pressure was because the Liberal Party wanted BC’s brand-new government, with its  very slim hold on power, to fail if that could be arranged. And it could be arranged much  more easily if a member of the Green Party or the New Democratic Party had to serve as Speaker, because the Speaker normally does not have a vote in the Legislative Assembly;  just to break tie votes.  And the Speaker would, in this government, likely have to break a lot of tie votes.  For more information on the role of Speaker, check this page.

As the Liberal Party press release stated, as a result of Plecas agreeing to take on the role of Speaker,”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.”  As for winning “the most seats and the  most votes” please contemplate the analysis below.

Would it benefit the Liberal Party if it could bring down the newly-formed NDP-Green Party government? It would force another election; a great expense to all of us in both time and money.  It would halt the work of government for a period of time crucial to many urgent decisions.  Would those things be in the best interests of BC citizens?  Many will say, “YES ― because  our side has only one seat less in the Legislature than the NDP and Greens put together! So the Liberals really ought to be governing!” 

On the other hand,  the Liberal Party garnered a total of 796,772 votes province-wide.  But the NDP and Greens together had a total of 1,126,493 votes.  The difference is 329,721 votes on the side of the current NDP/Green government ― a little over 17% of the total votes cast ― a healthy margin in terms of percentage of the popular vote.  As for the difference in the number of votes between the NDP and the Liberals, that was a mere 1,666. There are quite a few more voters in BC who would probably object to having the current BC government brought down. Would that result in kindly feelings and  more votes for the Liberal Party in a new election?  One can only speculate at this point, but my guess would be — no, it wouldn’t.   

Let’s look at those numbers more closely.

With  796,772 votes, the Liberals gained 43 seats; that’s 18,530 votes per seat won.

With 795,106 votes, the NDP were allotted 41 seats ― that’s 19,393 votes per NDP seat in the Legislature.

The Green Party had 332,387 votes and gained only three seats, so each Green Party seat is supported by a whopping  110,796 votes across the province.

Considering the popular vote rather than the scant difference in numbers of MLAs, the Liberal Party’s sense of entitlement to govern is not as well-founded.

If the Greens’ ratio of votes to seats was equal to the Liberal ratio, the Greens would now have at least 17 seats in the Legislature. (17.93, to be exact, but we know that’s not really possible.)  And if the NDP ratio of votes to seats was equal to the Liberal ratio, the NDP would have 42.91 seats and the Liberals would have 42.99 seats.   Now, we can’t have MLAs divided into decimal points, but you can see that the difference is really very small.

Do we applaud or condemn Darryl Plecas?  I suggest we applaud him, even though his former party accuses him of breaking trust.  The Liberal Party press release says, “As BC Liberals, we pride ourselves on working hard together,  sticking together when times get tough, and having respectful debates within a strong, united party [–].”  That sounds laudable within a political party, but to me it’s narrow and divisive in terms of government, and to require members of the Party to refuse to serve as Speaker so as to better create conditions to thwart or  bring down a government demonstrates an appalling wrong-headedness.  

Plecas obviously changed his mind about taking on the Speaker’s role.  Earlier, he was quoted in a PostMedia article as having said, “The notion of us (the Liberals) putting up someone for Speaker under the current circumstances is ridiculous. In fact, I would go further to say that it would be an outright manipulation of the democratic process.”  He seems to have realized that a political party forbidding any of its members to take on the role was a less-worthy “manipulation of the democratic process.”

What will Plecas do now?   Sitting as an independent, freed from the fetters of party loyalties, he can more easily exercise the neutrality required of a Speaker.  There are rumours of a recall initiative being organized in his riding, Abbotsford South, as further punishment for his act in service of a more stable government; time will tell. Plecas first ran for election as an MLA in 2013, and won with over 47 percent of the vote; in the last election, he increased that to over 52 percent of the vote. 

Hang in there, Dr. Plecas.

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