Martyn Brown: A “betrayal” that’s too rich for Rich Coleman

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      Interim B.C. Liberal leader Rich Coleman is an expert on the art of betrayal. Some betrayals are simply too rich for Rich.

      To wit: B.C. Liberal MLA Darryl Plecas’s historic defection, to serve as speaker of the B.C. legislature.

      Now the party executive has actually revoked his party membership, ostensibly acting on a “request” from the Abbotsford South riding association, citing his act of broken trust. These folks don’t mess around.

      I wonder how many local Liberals actually voted to support that measure. Surely it’s a tiny fraction of the riding’s party membership, let alone of the 11,673 constituents who voted for Plecas.

      As a tough cop on the beat in another movie, Coleman was likely not someone you wanted to run afoul of, walking the beat, carrying a big stick. He was a terrifyingly effective figure as a caucus whip.

      The message Plecas’s punishment conveys is unmistakable: don’t mess with the party’s new sheriff. He, who values loyalty above all. Except for when he doesn’t.

      Kicking Plecas out of the party was a very stupid, too-Coleman response. It was crassly punitive and insanely shortsighted. It will alienate many Liberal voters who applaud the new speaker's laudable act of nonpartisanship that was wholly aimed at making the legislature more workable and productive for all of the citizens it serves

      Reading Rob Shaw’s excellent back-story account of the NDP’s speaker coup—and watching the embedded video of Coleman assail the very person he so intimately schooled in that dark art—was too funny.

      Talk about cosmic justice.

      Lest we forget, it was Coleman who taught Plecas the true meaning of betrayal in the first place, when the latter was seeking his party’s nomination in Abbotsford South, in 2012.

      Gary Mason artfully documented the sordid way in which Moe Gill was dumped as the Liberals’ chosen candidate for the 2013 election, to make way for Plecas. It should be required reading for anyone inclined to sympathize with Coleman’s sanctimonious attack on his former ally.

      How ironic.

      Veteran Abbotsford councillor Moe Gill claimed in 2012 that Rich Coleman tried to force him to sign a letter agreeing to run in Abbotsford-Mission rather than in Abbotsford South.

      The guy (Plecas) who Coleman and Christy Clark tagged to replace the guy (Gill), whom Mike de Jong had assured would be the party’s choice to replace former Liberal MLA John van Dongen—who also “betrayed” his party by jumping ship—is now in Coleman’s black book as a traitor.

      Now that same person has given them both the shaft. I love it. And I couldn’t be happier with Plecas.

      He was the only B.C. Liberal with the guts and good sense to first tell Clark she had to go, as the Breaker’s Bob Mackin revealed. That story was the first to put the lie to the former premier’s claim that she was asked by every caucus member to stay on.

      In the end, he was the only elected B.C. Liberal to put the public interest ahead of his bully-boss’s private pressuring to subordinate the legislature’s needs to the Liberals’ partisan interests.

      The Liberals’ loss is British Columbia’s gain, I’d say. If Steve Thomson had only had the same gumption and rectitude that Plecas has shown, we could have easily avoided the whole stupid speaker controversy.

      Mercifully, Plecas has now emphatically resolved that dilemma, to support the responsible government liberated by the GreeNDP alliance.

      He will be a superb speaker, as Andrew Weaver has rightly said, with the full support of his Green colleagues.

      True enough, it is certainly hard to reconcile Plecas’s actions with what he said in this video interview published last June in the Abbotsford News.

      “I am not interested in being the Speaker unless I have the complete blessing of my caucus,” he said. “It would not be appropriate for us to be propping up an NDP-Green alliance, to stay in power”.

      “My personal view is that British Columbians didn’t election a coalition of NDPs and Greens. But the other part of it is, I was elected as a Liberal. It would be very disrespectful of me, very dishonourable, for me to—what in this case, would in effect, be crossing the floor.

      “I mean, obviously the Speaker is an independent role. But because of the nature of the split, it would mean that I would be hurting the Liberal party. In other words, hurting the wishes of my constituents. And there’s no way that’s going to happen. I’m certainly not going to do anything dishonourable.”

      I’m sure that Coleman will make it his life’s mission to make his former colleague eat those words, as will many local Liberals.

      Darryl Plecas was the only member of the B.C. Liberal caucus to go public with his view that Christy Clark needed to quit as leader.

      What is missing is the context behind Plecas’s change of heart and position.

      He is no dummy. A renowned former criminology professor, with a couple of criminology degrees and a PhD, he knows a thing or two about the nature of crime.

      As in how he was initially robbed of his opportunity to serve as Speaker, a couple of months ago, only to see his party stabbed in the back by its own leader with a throne speech that robbed it of its dignity, honour, and self-respect.

      He declined to serve in that role he was courted to fill because he was pressured to do so and because he opted to put his faith in a senior leadership team that didn’t deserve it.

      Somehow, for Coleman, Clark, and their entire crew, the fundamental betrayal of the Liberals' policies and principles that that throne speech represented was A-OK. It was a sell-out of biblical proportions that double-crossed almost 797,000 B.C. Liberal voters. who rejected the NDP-Green agenda.

      Three times in the days before that debacle, Plecas refused the overtures from the NDP and Greens to serve as speaker. Which, in retrospect, mostly proved that he was too naïve.

      He trusted his leader and her deputy premier to remain true to their cause, which they promptly abandoned in a desperate bid to cling to power and to mislead all British Columbians about the supposed “unworkable” nature of NDP-Green partnership. Such tripe.

      The throne speech showed that the only thing that the B.C. Liberals’ “braintrust” was ever really devoted to serving was the ongoing pursuit of power for its own sake.

      Does anyone really believe that the Clark-Coleman government would have honoured any of the GreeNDP commitments it ostensibly embraced in its last-ditch plea for power?

      Not on your life. Betrayal was always central to that game plan.

      That throne speech was about as credible as the ridiculously understated 2017 budget estimate, which was also a betrayal of the B.C. Liberal caucus and party in its own right. It was about as dishonest as the 2013 throne speech and election campaign that promised a “debt-free B.C.”, courtesy of Clark-Coleman’s unflagging confidence in the great LNG myth.

      Betrayal? Seriously, Rich?

      The B.C. Liberals were elected in 2013 on a promise to pay off B.C.'s debt with an LNG windfall.

      From the deputy premier who stood by his boss’s betrayal of all British Columbians, as she went back on her word and asked the lieutenant-governor for the election that she vowed not to request?

      From the guy who shed crocodile tears for a leader who tried to perpetuate the myth that the entire caucus basically begged her to stay on? When they both knew that Plecas had in fact called for her resignation?

      Whatever. The way I see it, it is not just the Horgan administration and the GreeNDP alliance that has a new four-year lease on life as a result of Plecas’s laudable, “dastardly deed”. It is our entire province.

      In the long run, it puts a new twist on that famous Arthur Miller quote, “betrayal is the only truth that sticks.”

      The Big Man who now rules the Liberal roost mostly proved how small he really is by refusing to even clap for the new speaker and by suggesting he won’t respect him.

      If Plecas “betrayed” him as Coleman claims, it is only because he wasn’t worthy of trust in the first place. More importantly, because of that private member’s leadership, a lot of British Columbians will now be much better off.

      That is the only truth that will really stick from Plecas’s actions for seniors, students, vulnerable children, persons with disabilities, those living on a minimum wage or income assistance, or struggling with addictions. All of their lives will be materially better, partly thanks to his “betrayal”.

      The only truth that will really stick for the 57 percent who voted for a new government is that they will now have it for many years to come, with even less risk of it falling due to the Liberals’ ongoing attempts to bring it down.

      The only truth that will really stick in the craw of the caucus that Clark abandoned in contradiction of her earlier assurances is that fact of betrayal that gave Plecas new licence to jump ship.

      Resigning as leader was one thing; quitting as an MLA and giving the NDP a two-seat majority that she fought so hard to make would-be speakers like Plecas resist is quite another. By bolting from her seat as well as her leader’s office, Clark showed that “loyalty” only goes so far, and she gave Plecas every reason to reconsider his earlier position.

      It was her resignation from her seat in the legislature that really put the boots to her colleagues and to her own false prospects of a snap election predicated on a tenuous one-seat majority that she assured would prove unworkable.

      It was her failed election strategy, her senior cabinet ministers’ lack of leadership, and Coleman’s incompetence in cochairing the B.C. Liberals’ ultimately losing campaign that was most responsible for betraying the strategic promise of a booming economy and a balanced budget.

      Plecas didn’t consign his colleagues to at least the next four years in purgatory. It was his party’s betrayals of leadership that did that.

      Something tells me, the betrayals that will stick in the public’s mind will not be the new speaker’s spectacular rejection of the leader-that-wouldn’t-be—the party’s former top cop and gasman-in-chief, Rich Coleman.

      Rather, it will be the betrayals that Coleman championed in government as the point-person for an LNG pipe dream that was always that and nothing more; as the insufferable architect of an “affordable housing strategy” that never was and that only hurt so many renters and would-be buyers.

      If by some chance Coleman ultimately reverses his commitment to not enter the party leadership contest, he would be remembered for that betrayal as well. Given that he couldn’t find any caucus members to support him in considering that job last time around, I doubt he would be so dumb. But you never know.

      If I was one of those hapless souls who are now contemplating running to replace him as opposition leader, I sure wouldn’t trust him not to change his mind. Then again, if his stock was falling before, it has likely hit rock bottom with Plecas’s move and with his classless condemnation of it.

      “You can expect my guys to perform very well,” said Coleman. “They are going to be very good. It will be professional, it will be competent and we’ll be on top of the issues that really matter.”

      Classic Coleman: “my guys” he calls the women and men who now make up the B.C. Liberal caucus, many of whom are no fans of his.

      Not “our team”. Nope.

      Coleman sees them all as “my guys”, which I expect he will soon find that so many of them are decidedly not. He will struggle to keep them all in line and doing his bidding when the leadership race heats up.

      In the meantime, each time Plecas calls him or his former colleagues to order, or exercises his office and power to independent effect, the Incredible Shrinking Liberal caucus should know that it blew it, big time.

      As I earlier suggested in the Straight, it was once in a position to leverage the speaker’s position to also advance its partisan interests by properly respecting that office and putting the public interest first.

      A real leader, even an interim one, would have seen and embraced that opportunity. Not Coleman. And now it’s too late.

      NDP house leader Mike Farnworth helped persuade Darryl Plecas to become the speaker.

      With Mike Farnworth’s able urging, Plecas has done on his own what both Clark and Coleman could have done, and should have done.

      Turned out, he was the only real leader of the bunch—and somewhere, Moe Gill is probably smiling at how Coleman’s “master stroke” backfired on him.

      Mike de Jong sure looked jubliant enough, walking the new speaker to his new desk in the legislative chamber. He, too, was betrayed by the little, big man who is technically his new boss.

      If Plecas, Horgan, and the GreeNDP alliance act to embrace the Westminster speaker’s model that I have also advocated, so much the better.

      Lord knows, the opportunity at hand is to fundamentally redefine the speaker’s role, to enhance the independence of that office, and to reinforce its nonpartisan nature.

      Consistent with that model, I hope Plecas will commit to abstain from voting to break any potential ties on nonprocedural matters. As in the Mother Parliament, he should commit to not vote to break ties on any issues of policy or law, or even on matters of confidence.

      In exchange, as in England, all parties should ideally commit to let the speaker run again in his seat, unopposed by them. With the Liberals’ vindictive act to expel Plecas from the party, that’s obviously not going to happen.

      It would take a bigger man than Coleman to embrace Plecas as his party’s candidate in 2021. Horgan might be that guy, as he has already demonstrated that compared to any of the Liberals opposite, he’s a giant who looms very large in terms of intellect, smarts, and goodwill.

      If Plecas is now a pariah with his own former party, it is only because he had the temerity and courage to stand up to the biggest bully of them all, to stand tall for all that should be most important in our parliamentary democracy.

      More than most MLAs, he has proved the measure of his mettle and merit.

      Rather than slamming his bold move for a better government and legislature, we should all be thanking him for taking on the new task that he is so perfectly suited to serve.

      Far from putting this issue smartly to rest, as Coleman could have done with even a modicum of true leadership and political savvy, his response to Plecas’s decision is almost certainly bound to broaden and perpetuate the Liberals’ growing crisis of leadership.

      You think this is as nasty as it gets? Think again. The Liberals are self-destructing as the New Democrats and Greens are consolidating their strength and capacity.

      At this rate, Dianne Watts would have to be nuts to enter that hornet’s nest. Because whoever does is going to get badly stung.

      Coleman’s losing it and lost it. And happily for B.C., his bungling is rapidly proving how right the lieutenant-governor was to facilitate a badly needed change in government.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact Brown at