Parting gift: outgoing Speaker releases reports on legislature reform

By Shannon Waters December 7, 2020

Just ahead of his official exit from the Speaker’s office, Darryl Plecas released a pair of reports proposing a variety of reforms for the legislative assembly.

“I sincerely hope that members of the 42nd Parliament will take the opportunity to review these reports and be promoters and, where applicable, leaders, in driving change in the coming months and years,” Plecas wrote in a news release accompanying the reports, adding that the proposed changes have “real potential of strengthening the institution” of the legislature.

The reports are based on feedback received during the Speaker’s Forum, a series of roundtables established in 2017 by Plecas himself.

Plecas recommends finding ways to boost public engagement, especially among marginalized groups, and improve “meaningful engagement” between MLAs and their constituents, as well as between politicians and members of the media.

These are doled out in eight pages of possible action items, ranging from implementing term limits for MLAs and recording heckling in Hansard transcripts, to conducting “a gender-based analysis” of the legislature’s operations and establishing “a Citizen’s Advisory Committee to review and make recommendations on misbehaviour and misconduct in the house.”

Several of the recommendations target the legislative press gallery, which is independent from the legislative assembly but still operates within the house. Suggestions include having an independent body produce “an annual report card” of the media’s coverage of the legislative assembly. Another suggestion is to “encourage” reporters “to present news to the public more like an accessible briefing note … and less like a story about villains and heroes.”

Final report cut short
The other report was released ahead of schedule due to the end of Plecas’ tenure as Speaker and is “intended to be a blueprint, left as part of Speaker Plecas’ legacy.”

Its recommendations cover three areas for reform: improving support and education options for MLAs; tweaking parliamentary processes to increase accountability and representation; and increasing public access, awareness and understanding of the legislature.

The number one recommendation to better support MLAs could be a boon to the many new members about to join the house for the first time — creating a “mid-session check-in” to see if members need “additional supports” in order to fulfill their responsibilities. Members have access to administrative assistance, but a check-in process could help identify areas for improvement or “gaps that should be addressed by the Legislative Assembly Management Committee,” per the report.

More regional art displays, social media outreach, and increased use of American Sign Language interpretation of proceedings — currently only available during the throne speech and budget speech — are among Plecas’ suggestions to better engage members of the public. He also suggests publicly posting MLA attendance and voting records — something other parliaments already do.

He also suggests making committees justify their decision to meet in camera — where discussions are not publicly accessible — to “ensure full transparency” and help British Columbians “better understand” committee operations.

“It is my sincere hope that many of these proposals will be explored and actioned in the 42nd parliament,” Plecas concludes.

The outgoing Speaker is likely to remain best known for his scathing 2018 report on legislature spending, which he said would make taxpayers so outraged they would “throw up.”