Legends of the fall session - The Orca

Legends of the fall session

Maclean Kay

Big news from both the Greens and NDP sets the stage for a suddenly much more consequential fall legislative session.

Three days ahead of what looked like a fairly unremarkable fall legislative session (with one important exception), all hell broke loose.

For the first time under John Horgan, a cabinet minister quit. The NDP announced Jinny Sims had resigned as Minister of Citizens’ Services – because a Special Prosecutor had been appointed to investigate her.

Then, just half an hour later, Green leader Andrew Weaver issued a media advisory, saying only that he would be making a “significant announcement” Monday morning. Interestingly, it’s scheduled for the Hall of Honour – the largest and most public space in the legislature.

The Greens have been tight-lipped, saying only that it should not be missed. Understandably, much speculation has focused on Weaver’s health, after suffering a debilitating attack of labyrinthitis earlier this month. But for what it’s worth, I sat down with Weaver the day before – ironically to chat about the upcoming session. He seemed much improved and in good spirits. So we can only wait and see what’s next.

Whatever he and the Greens have in mind, it will be overshadowed by Sims’ first day as a private member. It’s not known what, specifically, the prosecutor is looking at, but – unfortunately for the NDP – it could be a number of things.

Unfortunately for the NDP, it could be a number of things.

These include repeatedly flouting Freedom of Information laws (in a nice touch, laws her now-former ministry was responsible for), but also much more serious allegations of taking money in exchange for letters of recommendation for visa applicants, including individuals on US security watchlists.

Sims’ problems aren’t new. As I wrote in May:

If any of these allegations prove true, Sims faces a rocky road. Her first problems with personal email and FOI caused a significant headache for the NDP and Premier John Horgan, who had made transparency a key election issue. A second strike would be embarrassing enough, but she is also (still) the minister responsible for ensuring FOI compliance across government.

The recommendation letters are potentially more serious. If there was any expectation of payment – from ineligible individuals, and well above the donation limit – charges could be warranted. No matter what, the recommendation letters were written, and at best display a troubling lapse in judgement.

Will it cost Sims her spot in cabinet?

“I can’t see how she could retain her ministerial position,” says BC Liberal House Leader Mary Polak.

We don’t know what specifically prompted the investigation, be it the initial whistleblower (Sims’ former constituency assistant), or information from the BC Liberals, who also alerted the RCMP in May – or both, or others.

Regardless, Monday will be a rough ride for NDP MLAs, who will each be asked for comment they likely can’t give about their first cabinet casualty. The NDP wanted this session to be about several new pieces of legislation, including a Climate Accountability Act, and adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into provincial law.

Week one, at least, will be dominated by events now mostly beyond their control.

All this doesn’t even take into consideration the otherworldly way the legislature finished the last session, which saw every single BC Liberal MLA read a motion of non-confidence in Speaker Darryl Plecas, accusing him of “breaching collective and individual privileges of this House and a contempt for this House.”

Heavy stuff indeed. It’s hard to know what the legislature will look like after that. Tensions have not exactly soothed over the summer, either.

Tensions have not exactly soothed over the summer.

“The legislature itself is still not in a steady footing,” said BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson on Thursday. “We’ve lost the sergeant at arms, the clerk, both those positions are open now. We’ve lost the auditor general, we’ve lost the acting sergeant at arms, who’s next?”

“You can’t just keep having a firing squad once a week and say everything’s just fine.”

It will be a while before anyone says “everything’s just fine” about the legislature.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca