Politics is just bad show business. But don't let the smoke and mirrors distract you from some of the startling allegations in this case.
For an academic, Daryl Plecas has a surprising streak of P.T. Barnum in him. He loves to talk big; an old-school showman using larger-than-life language to hoodwink us rubes into hanging on his every word.
Today’s Legislative Assembly Management Committee meeting was going to be the Greatest Show on Earth, as Plecas said he would outline what caused him to call the police, get special prosecutors appointed, and turf out B.C.’s two most senior public servants – Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz.
They had done something so bad, so outrageous, that Speaker of the House Plecas claimed we would all “throw up” when we heard. Like kids waiting for the freak show, we were promised thrills and chills.
I had my puke pail next to me as I logged into the Legislature web feed at High Noon.
Plecas’ voice came in, loud and clear. Step right up folks, and see my 76-page report into what caused me to make the recommendations I did! Tremble at the details! Learn why I had to eject those freaky freaks! Your knees will knock as you thumb through my five-inch binder of evidence!
And then, nothing. The politicians had a quick vote and – boom – they went in-camera, meaning no cameras for us. The media and public were kicked out of the room. The live feed cut out. And British Columbia was left, again, with no idea of what was happening.
What was in the 76-page report? What was in the binder?
Lost and alone, I kept one eye on the media’s Twitter feeds, and the other on important tie-ins. Do 5-inch binders even exist? According to Staples.ca: YES, for $29.99. So the five-inch binder part of Plecas’s tale was, indeed plausible – but pricy for a binder. After all, 3-inch binders go for $6.97 each – think of the money he would have saved taxpayers if he had opted for the two 3-inch binders. (Later I would realize that James would have bought a gold-plated 5″ binder for such an important report. Allegedly)
But maybe the evidence wouldn’t work, spread over two binders like that. How was I to know?
Back to Twitter. Vaughn Palmer, BC politics’ top columnist, has a series of tweets about Plecas asking for $180,000 more to staff his office, including pay the salary of his friend, the special advisor Alan Mullen. A quick Google search tells me that Hall of Fame NHL forward Joey Mullen inked a rookie contract that had a $30,000 signing bonus. Is having Alan Mullen around Plecas’s office worth six times more than future 50-goal scorer Joey Mullen?
I checked YouTube for Joey Mullen highlights. There were many. Alan Mullen highlights? Not so many.
Liza Yuzda of News 1130 interrupted my train of thought by tweeting a photo of the Legislative Press Gallery – some of the finest journalists and writers our province has to offer – sitting on the floor outside the committee meeting room. I noted Keith Baldrey wouldn’t sit. That’s why he’s the best in the business, people. Also – his hair helps.
It had been 90 minutes, and still nothing from P.T. Plecas, who was now the top Twitter trend in Vancouver. What a world.
A co-worker asked me what I thought would happen. This is B.C. politics, I answered confidently. Whatever is the craziest damn thing that can happen will, of course, occur.
Then: a ray of light. The meeting would reconvene at 2:30PM, some two hours after it closed to the public – and 30 minutes after a lunch break. (Lunch break, in this case, is code for politicians running to check with their colleagues, advisors, leaders and strategists about what to do next.)
It seems like they hashed it all out behind closed doors as they passed four quick, unanimous, undebated motions: terms for a comprehensive audit of the Legislature, terms for a workplace review of the Legislature, inviting a written response from James and Lenz by Feb. 1, and (FINALLY!) public release of the report.
There’s a lot in those 76 pages, and, as I write this, I’ve had just 15 minutes to digest it: allegations of highly questionable expenses, retirement-allowances-for-the-non-retired, uber luxurious travel, and that grotesque entitled-to-my-entitlement behaviour that some bureaucrats can’t get away from. There’s even expensive scotch.
I didn’t throw up, but I certainly don’t feel great about what I’ve read so far. These are all allegations at this point – but there’s a lot of them. And some very, very expensive ones.
Politics has been described as bad show business. Today certainly reinforced that belief with the lengthy delays, behind-closed-doors debates, and news conferences.
But this show will go on – with the next act belonging to the legal defence teams of James and Lenz. I have no idea how they plan to defend themselves but remember what I told my co-worker: Whatever is the craziest damn thing that can happen will, of course, occur. That’s life in B.C. politics in 2019.
Jordan Bateman has a long history of public policy work, championing small business and fiscal responsibility. Currently the Vice President, Communications & Marketing for the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA), Jordan also served six years as the B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and was a two-term Langley Township Councillor