Sitting on my desk between two computer terminals is a delightful porcelain miniature of Pogo, the wonderful philosopher created by Walt Kelly. On his head, just above apologetic eyes, there’s a small bird’s nest with a tiny bluebird resident, presumably chirping merrily.
He’s been sitting on my desk, encouraging or chastising me, since the late 1950s when I was managing editor of the Penticton Herald. He was a gift from a charming reader who had talked her way past various front office secretaries “to speak personally to the editor or the person who writes the editorials.”
Having finally reached where I was sitting, she presented me with a splendid Walt Kelly “made in Ireland” Pogo. She hoped it would inspire me from time to time, and “above all else remind you that sometimes you write like a bird brain.”
Then, with the brightest of smiles, she was gone, and Pogo was left with his mournful eyes to offer me a choice – stuff him in a desk drawer or leave him as a staring desk reminder that readers should always be respected.
He’s been working overtime these past two or three weeks when I have devoted blogs to what I call the Speaker Plecas file which has touched off primeval upheavals in the Legislature. And each time I wrote, a Pogo glance reminded me we had walked this road before and survived a situation which saw a high-ranking public servant turfed from office with heavy-handed and occasionally, ill-timed interventions.
It was on February 15, 1956, that George Ernest Pascoe Jones was appointed Chairman of the BC Purchasing Commission and “in charge of all supplies needed in the public service.” Eight years later, on October 2, 1964, Jones was charged “with unlawful acceptance of benefits in his capacity as chairman.” The same day, an Order in Council was passed to relieve Jones of all duties related to the Commission. To the consternation of then Premier W.A.C. Bennett’s government, Jones refused to vacate his office. He had been appointed to hold office during good behaviour and was removable only by the Lieutenant Governor “on address of the Legislative Assembly.”
Little more than two months later on Jan. 15, 1965, the criminal charges were dropped, after a trial in Victoria County Court. The Attorney General appealed the acquittal but “on motion by the plaintiff (it was) stricken out as frivolous and vexatious.”
We wouldn’t allow that today, would we? Frivolous and vexatious behaviour; people suspended from their duties because someone suspected them of misbehaving, and then left to dangle for weeks with accusations backed by flashy rhetoric and only minimal defence permitted.
Last Thursday (Feb 21,2019) Speaker Plecas touched off his latest string of explosive misdemeanours and announced that he was now ready to step aside and let a Management Committee appointee make a full scale inquiry into what has become a sorry mess of real and/or imagined “vexatious” behaviour. The local newspaper quotes Speaker Plecas as saying “If this weren’t so serious it would be the stuff of comedy.”
Yes, indeed, but frankly from where the public sits most of the lead players already appear to be humming the “bring on the clowns” chorus or chanting “stir up strife, stir up trouble” with the ladies of Endor.
I have been reminded that those making charges today should be sure they do not finish up as the government accusers of G.E.P. Jones finished up when push came to shove. In the final Supreme Court of Canada appeal the court found in favour of Jones with a terse but telling note that the defendant in the case – Premier W.A.C. Bennett – “never publicly gave any explanation or any reason for retiring and removing the plaintiff from office at any time, either in the Legislative Assembly or outside the Legislative Assembly.”
Last Thursday Speaker Plecas said he thought the time had come for him to step back and “let someone other than me be making comment.” Some critics might suggest he should have stepped back when he caught the first whispers of deception and discontent, reported his concerns to the Attorney General and remained well clear of the rough and tumble of political debate.
But better late than never and far better that a final judgment should be arrived at in a quiet, thoughtful conference room rather than yammered out with spitting rhetoric in the political trenches. Time to get accusers and accused in this drama out of the Legislature to a place where wheat and chafe can be quickly separated.
Time to get the Speaker out of the trenches and onto his elevated throne where “the House” expects him to “preserve order and decorum and decide questions of order” while reminding members that “no debate shall be permitted on any decision. No decision shall be subject to an appeal to the House.”
It should be interesting to watch the final scenes play out. Will Speaker Plecas step away from his powerful title for the duration of the final act? Or will he “preserve decorum but stay out of the debate?” He may already have anticipated a problem in that regard.
On Thursday the Times Colonist quoted him as saying: “House leaders will decide if confidence in these two officers (James and Lenz) has been undermined to the point that regardless of the outcome of further processes, audits and investigations Mr.James and Mr.Lenz cannot realistically return to their positions as senior executives of the Legislative Assembly.”
I think my Irish Pogo, just rolled his eyes.