B.C. MLAs terrified of losing control over legislature

It looks like the inmates have reclaimed control of the asylum.

That’s one takeaway from the collective decision by B.C.’s MLAs to hire an esteemed former chief justice to examine allegations against the legislature’s clerk and Sgt.-at-Arms.

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The move to hire Beverly McLachlin to investigate allegations made by Speaker Darryl Plecas against the two table officers is impressive.

We will now have a highly respected professional examining a controversy that has rocked the legislature like nothing before, as it was slowly but surely sapping the MLAs of their ability to control the place.

With each passing day since Plecas’ explosive allegations, power shifted out of the MLAs hands and into the Speaker’s, and his own special aide, Allan Mullan.

It took several weeks for the MLAs, through their own Legislature Assembly Management Committee, to figure out a way to regain control.

First, they called in B.C.’s independent auditor-general to conduct an audit of legislature finances. They were going to go outside the province for that job, until it was pointed out to the MLAs that only Carol Bellringer, the B.C. auditor-general, has the statutory authority to dive into the legislature’s books.

Bellringer’s appointment began to lower the temperature. The LAMC members also agreed to bring in an “eminent jurist” to handle the investigation. Due to McLachlin’s sterling reputation, her findings will likely be deemed unassailable. This is critically important, since only she is stepping into this whole mess with any kind of credibility and non-partisanship.

For example, the relationship between the Speaker’s office and the Official Opposition appears to have completely broken down to the point of almost open warfare between the two sides - an unheard of situation in a Westminster parliament model.

Given Plecas’ lack of neutrality in the matter, it was urgent that an independent outsider step in to be the final arbiter and restore some normalcy to the situation.

The three house leaders actually hired McLachlin, and her terms of reference require her to report out to them – not LAMC, of which Plecas is a member.

This is another deft touch for the MLAs to regain control of the legislature and of this controversy, and that will come at the Speaker’s expense.

One could almost hear a collective sigh of relief in the legislature corridors as word spread of McLachlin’s hiring spread. Many legislature staff members seemed genuinely excited by the prospect of such a learned and independent person coming in to take control.

Last year, McLachlin, retired from the bench, published a crime novel entitled Full Disclosure.

Ironically, that title reflects exactly what is needed in this controversy. Depending on what she digs up in this thing, she may have another book on her hands.

Keith Baldrey is chief political correspondent for Global BC.

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