B.C. legislature Speaker Darryl Plecas suggested his friend and assistant Alan Mullen be appointed as an interim replacement the night before the abrupt suspension of its two top administrative officers, B.C. Liberal house leader Mary Polak said Thursday. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

In Our Opinion: the Speaker shouldn’t be an MLA

Why we should re-evaluate the speaker’s position after the latest B.C. legislature scandal

Regardless of the outcome of the B.C. referendum on electoral reform, it’s clear that the way at least one person is elected in the B.C. Legislative Assembly needs to be changed.

The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly is a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), elected to the position by other MLAs. The Speaker must act neutrally and treat all other MLAs impartially.

Objectively, this makes no sense. First and foremost, the MLA that takes the Speaker’s role was elected to represent the people who voted for them. Since the Speaker doesn’t vote except during the event of a tie and even then has to follow rules, it’s not unreasonable to say that, at present, whichever MLA becomes Speaker is essentially abdicating their primary responsibility: representing their voters/constituency. This in and of itself should be enough to reconsider how a Speaker is elected.

Secondly, since the member had to get elected, they may well have made very strong political statements immediately prior to taking the position. It’s hard to reconcile that juxtapositioning. Certainly, it could pose a problem for public trust.

READ MORE: Legal battle ahead for suspended B.C. legislature executives

Again this by itself should be enough to re-evaluate the Speaker position.

However, now more than ever, it’s clear that the Speaker should not be an MLA. At the start of the current (41st) Parliament, the role of Speaker was a hot topic as, unless the Speaker came from the Liberals, Parliament would be able to get very little done. A member of the Green Party or NDP assuming the role of Speaker would leave the Green-NDP coalition and the Liberals with the same number of seats. In the event of a tie, the Speaker would have to vote but is expected to follow the Speaker Denison’s rule which includes voting against the final enactment of a bill but against motions of no confidence. This added yet another solid reason to look for a Speaker outside of the elected MLAs.

The current situation, regardless of how it plays out, should really be the nail in the coffin for how a Speaker is elected. In the unprecedented situation, the Speaker led an unknown investigation through an unknown advisor leading to unknown allegations against two senior staff members who were removed one of which the Speaker tried to replace with his advisor. That situation, in and of itself, raised plenty of concerns and it’s probably fair to say problematic. But realistically, it’s worse than that. Should MLAs decide to remove Plecas as the Speaker, there’s once again the potential for gridlock.

It’s not clear whether Plecas should stay on as Speaker but if the situation calls for it, there’s active incentive for the NDP and the Green Party not to do so as it could, hypothetically bring down their government.

Regardless of whether B.C. sticks with First Past The Post or switches to Proportional Representation, it’s time to reconsider how the Speaker is elected.

READ MORE: Suspended B.C. legislature officers protest their treatment

This editorial originally ran at 100 Mile Free Press


newsroom@100milefreepress.net

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