B.C. Speaker: Christy Clark told BC Liberal MLAs to fire non-partisan constituency workers

Former constituency assistant says Darryl Plecas returned from pre-election meeting ‘very upset’

Former Premier Christy Clark told BC Liberal MLAs to fire any constituency assistants who refused to campaign for the party in 2017, Darryl Plecas alleged in an interview with The Abbotsford News yesterday.

The Abbotsford South MLA and BC Legislature Speaker said he considered such a move to be “immoral and possibly illegal” because constituency assistants and offices are publicly funded and supposedly non-partisan. He said he refused to comply, and that the order played a significant part in his decision to abandon the BC Liberals the following year in order to assume the Speaker’s role in the legislature.

Constituency offices and the assistants who work in them are funded with taxpayers’ money allocated to each MLA to help citizens. While some constituency assistants engage in outside political activities, as constituency assistants they are supposed to be non-partisan – a point that multiple BC Liberal MLAs have made in the legislature over the last year.

Speaking in response to a question about a group seeking to recall him for leaving the BC Liberals, Plecas told The News that before the last provincial election, Clark told all the party’s MLAs that they should replace any constituency assistants who were not willing to defeat the NDP.

Plecas said he believed the directive to be “possibly illegal” because of the non-partisan nature of the office.

“That’s using public money for a political purpose,” he said. “That’s also not an appropriate way to treat any employee, where somebody gets fired for their belief system. I simply said I just wasn’t going to do it. That’s not who I am. That’s not who I want to be.”

Since leaving the BC Liberals in late 2017, Plecas has been independent.

RELATED: Last year, The News wrote about what constituency assistants do: ‘I’ve seen a lot of joy, and a lot of crying’: life as a politician’s assistant can be eye-opening

Tricia Taylor, a former constituency assistant for Plecas who left her job in 2017, independently confirmed that, in late 2016, Plecas returned from a meeting “very upset.” According to Taylor, Plecas mentioned that MLAs had been told that their constituency assistants campaign should campaign for the party in the spring. She said, though, that Plecas made it clear that his staff weren’t going to be expected to be politically active.

Taylor ended up managing Plecas’s 2017 campaign for the Liberals, but another longtime constituency assistant who remains employed had no interest in partisan activities. (Taylor has since left Plecas’s office because her outreach work wasn’t possible given the confines of the non-partisan Speaker’s gig.)

Taylor said Plecas would have expected negative consequences for not complying with the order but “didn’t care.”

Over the last year and a half, the non-partisan nature of constituency offices and assistants has been repeatedly cited as worthy of upholding by BC Liberal MLAs, who have blasted the NDP for allowing the political staff of ministers to work in constituency offices.

MLAs have voiced their complaints several times, including in November 2018, when Liberal MLA Peter Milobar queried why constituency assistants were apparently involved in political meetings.

Constituency offices exist to serve the public in a non-partisan way,” Milobar said. “They do not exist for the premier and his party.”

The News has asked the BC Liberals to comment.

• • • • •

Plecas has dominated B.C. political news this week after releasing a bombshell report on the extravagant spending habits of the two top officers at the provincial legislature.

The report has won Plecas praise, and it has also delayed a recall initiative that was launched by a Langley man in January.

Robin Roy had said Plecas’s move to serve as Speaker, which gave vital breathing room to the NDP-Green coalition, was a “betrayal” of his party and constituents.

Roy told The News Friday that the report was mostly “smoke and mirrors” and hasn’t persuaded him that Plecas shouldn’t be recalled. He said his group wants to scour the report so they can better answer the questions of constituents being asked to sign up to remove Plecas from office.

Roy said his group won’t formally be starting to collect signatures until February now.

“We want to dig through this,” he said.

To recall Plecas, 40 per cent of eligible voters must sign a petition over the span of two months.

Plecas said that while he doesn’t feel good about being subject to a recall campaign, he hopes that it will prompt a conversation about matters of party loyalty and the duty of elected representatives.

Canadian politicians, he said, are elected to do what they feel is in their constituents’ best interests.

“I’m a voice for the people first and the party second,” he said. “People didn’t elect me to do what I was told. I’m the voice for the people and represent the people.”

He said history shows the dangers that emerge when politicians don’t have the opinion to stand up against the leaders of their parties.

“Constituents have to know that the party isn’t first. They are.”

RELATED: Speaker Darryl Plecas says ‘justice’ needed for legislature employees

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tolsen@abbynews.com

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