Fondness for Power and Calibrating Justice

They promised transparency in 2016 when the New Democrats gained a fragile mandate in British Columbia after the once-floundering Green Party won three seats and pledged to support the NDP in the Legislature. It turned another general election defeat for “the left” into a one-seat majority victory.

Premier John Horgan and his round table of newly appointed cabinet ministers pledged transparency and clear-cut decision making. No more flamboyant promises with hidden or deceptive meanings. No more double entendres. Just the facts. Precise, clearly spoken or written, easily understood. All the facts. Nothing buried accidentally or deliberately.

And then last Sunday (May 26) my local newspaper, The Times-Colonist, published a report on events leading to Dulcie McCallum’s final days (1992-99) as Ombudsman of BC.

I am leaving readers to find their own way to McCallum’s version of “transparency, 1999; the dark glass version” (Comments, Page A11, May 26, 2019) while I ferret from the same article her thoughts on the more recent report of former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin on the recent eruptive events at the Legislature.

McCallum does not question McLachlin’s findings or recommendations. She just notes that “when the McLachlin review was announced, Government House Leader Mike Farnworth said the report would be made public … But when the report was completed, government reneged … parts of the report had been redacted.”

It’s what they call “transparency through a glass darkly.”

McCallum, who now resides in Nova Scotia, writes: “After the McLachlin report was completed, the government tabled a motion in the legislature (which was passed) to seal all of the evidence submitted during her review and released a redacted report. The motion to seal the evidence may be justifiable, but not the redactions … British Columbians are entitled to see the complete report.”

She then tosses in a phrase that intrigues and demands sharper focus. The italics in the quote are mine, and so is the guess at what she meant. “Government did the right thing in taking this matter seriously with the appointment of the former chief justice. But fondness for power sometimes has a funny way of calibrating justice. Government has to finish the job by doing what’s fair and just: Release the full report.”

“Fondness for power?” Was that what McLachlin was suggesting when, in her report, she was critical of Speaker Darryl Plecas? She wrote: “It is not entirely clear why the Speaker did not bring his concerns to the attention of the clerk and sergeant at arms forthwith, as one would expect of a supervising officer, or in any event before taking the dramatic action of having them publicly expelled from the Legislative Assembly building.”

Plecas,sounding as bellicose as Donald Trump, has responded that he would have done nothing differently and Premier Horgan has refused to consider a Liberal call to replace the Speaker.”We have a Speaker,” he said during the latest flare up over Plecas’s conduct. “Darryl Plecas is the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and he will be until such time as he decides not to be.”

Could that be a case of a fondness for power being a funny way to calibrate justice? Just asking.

McLachlin was not as supportive in her report: “What emerges from the evidence is that the Speaker viewed the matters that concerned him through the lens of a police investigation and criminal prosecution rather than the lens of an administrator. He seems to have seen his task as having to build a credible criminal-type case … rather than promptly confronting and correcting the administrative practices that he questioned. He focused on an investigatory line of inquiry at the expense of his duty to ensure that the affairs of the Legislative Assembly were properly administered on a current basis.”

Will the Legislative Assembly, the only “boss” the Speaker has, understand the warning McLachlin appears to voice when she reminds Speaker Plecas that he is where he is to “promptly confront and correct questionable administrative practices” not act as investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury.

His/her Standing Order 9, first rule is clear:”The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum.” Without them even a Premier protected Speaker becomes as “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.”‘

And, may all politicians, whichever flag they follow, one day come to understand that voters can be trusted with fully transparent reports and revelations. We’re not really dumb come election time. We can even remember your names and the promises you could and should have kept.

3 comments

  1. Unless national security is at risk voters must be trusted with fully transparent reports and revelations. To do otherwise is to treat the people as children, a characteristic of authoritarian governments.

  2. Very astute column. It is difficult to understand Horgan’s motives for tolerating this dictatorial , unpleasant behaviour by Plecas.

  3. Our Speaker is more Mickey Mouse by the day . That is Mickey with a badge . He has shown himself to be investigator , prosecutor , judge , jury – all following a “guilty verdict “publicly announced beforehand . No Justice here – Out With Him .

    Mel Massey

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