Sunday, January 20, 2019

Buckle Up - The next 10 days could change everything in B.C. politics

Hang on to your hats! From the police probe at the legislature to the byelection in Nanaimo, the next 10 days could change everything in B.C. politics.

Hang on to your hats, secure your valuables, buckle your seat belts and get set for another wild ride on B.C.’s political roller coaster.
From the mysterious police probe at the legislature to the crucial byelection in Nanaimo, the next 10 days could change everything.
It starts Monday, when the all-party management committee of the B.C. legislature meets for another instalment of the Darryl Plecas Show.
Plecas is the crusading Speaker of the house who called in the cops last year when he became aware of “certain activities that were taking place in the legislative assembly.”
That led to an RCMP investigation, the appointment of two independent special prosecutors to oversee the probe, and then the astonishing events of Nov. 20.
That’s the day Craig James, the long-serving clerk of the house, and Gary Lenz, the sergeant-at-arms, were suspended with pay and perp-walked by police out of the parliament buildings as TV cameras rolled.
What’s it all about? No one is saying precisely, but Plecas made clear it involves suspected financial wrongdoing of a criminal nature.
“I have a duty to taxpayers to make sure, if I ever see something that I think is inappropriate in terms of spending, financial matters, that I pursue that with due diligence,” Plecas told the last committee meeting in December.
“Under my watch, there will never, ever, be anything buried here — ever.”
In that spirit, Plecas said the public deserves to know what’s going on.
“The public has a right to know,” he said. “The public has a need to know. I want them to get an absolutely complete picture. That is going to happen. That will happen.”
And Plecas said he wants it to happen on Monday, when the committee meets again.

IN THE HOUSE PODCAST

This week, Mike Smyth and Rob Shaw discuss big developments in two ongoing byelections, the ups and downs of the federal race in Burnaby South, and the fallout of new speculation-tax rules in the provincial race in Nanaimo. They also look ahead to promised bombshell revelations from Speaker Darryl Plecas into the legislature scandal.  LISTEN HERE:
Audio Player
Of course, there’s the little matter of that police investigation. You can bet the cops, the special prosecutors and Plecas’s own legal counsel are urging him to zip his lips while police do their work.
But Plecas has already proven himself to be a maverick who is willing to speak his mind, even when the experts tell him to shut up.
“I will give you a long laundry list of my concerns,” he promised, insisting anything he discloses Monday will not compromise the police probe.
After he’s done that, he said he will propose a “full forensic audit” of top offices at the legislature, predicting all MLAs on the committee will eagerly agree after he spills the beans.
“The public deserves full disclosure,” he said. “Boy, are they going to get it.”
Then, in B.C.’s political quote of the year: “If the outcome of those audits did not outrage the public, did not outrage taxpayers, did not make them throw up, I will resign as Speaker.”
Talk about cranking up the hype machine. Monday’s meeting could be wild. His advisers want him to pipe down. But Plecas is the type of guy who clearly prefers to speak up.
Beyond the juicy quality of this political soap opera, there’s another reason this is all so important: The razor-close standings in the B.C. legislature.
If Plecas were to resign, it would force the governing NDP-Green alliance to put up one of their own MLAs to be the new Speaker, potentially tilting the province into a snap election.
Maverick B.C. Speaker Darryl Plecas is facing a potential recall campaign at the end of January in his riding of Abbotsford South. CHAD HIPOLITO / THE CANADIAN PRESS
But there’s an even more imminent danger to the NDP-Green team and their narrow hold on power: The Jan. 30 byelection in Nanaimo.
The riding became vacant when popular NDP MLA Leonard Krog quit to make a successful run for mayor. The seat is considered a safe one for the NDP, but if the Liberals steal it in an upset, it would deadlock the legislature in a tie and likely force an election.
And now the Nanaimo outcome looks anything but certain.
A new opinion poll, by the ONE Persuasion polling company, shows the NDP holding a narrow lead over the Liberals: 42 per cent to 38 per cent respectively among decided Nanaimo voters.
The poll, commissioned by The Orca news website, has a margin of error of 5.2 percentage points, suggesting the byelection is a statistical toss-up.
The poll result is similar to another one causing much concern among NDP insiders. I am told a poll commissioned by the province’s big labour unions pegged the NDP lead at just three percentage points over the Liberals.
But even more concerning for the NDP is this: When the pollster applied a “likely-voter screen” to the results, it flipped the lead around, putting the Liberals ahead by two points!
What is a likely-voter screen? It’s a method pollsters use to weight a poll result based on the likelihood that a respondent will show up on election day and cast a ballot.
Here’s the problem: The polls suggest the Liberals have higher support among older voters. And older voters are more likely to vote than younger voters.
The ONE Persuasion poll also suggested Liberal voters are more motivated to get out on election day.
All of this comes on top of last week’s astonishingly boneheaded decision by the NDP to release unpopular details of its new speculation and vacancy tax on homeowners.
The Horgan government stubbornly inflicted the tax on Nanaimo over the objections of the previous city council. Then the government last week revealed its “negative-option billing” system of applying the tax, forcing all homeowners to file an annual declaration proving they are not real-estate speculators to avoid paying it.
Why the NDP would choose to detonate this stink bomb in the middle of a byelection that could bring the government down is truly mind-boggling.
If the NDP loses this seat, it could go down as one of the dumbest political moves ever in B.C.


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