Six members of the B.C. Liberal riding association board for Abbotsford South resigned Tuesday, claiming the democratic selection for a candidate had been circumvented by senior Liberals to bring in criminologist Darryl Plecas, who is being acclaimed by the party tonight.
Now-resigned riding president Stephen Evans said Abbotsford Coun. Moe Gill, widely known to be interested in running for the party, was shut out before he had a chance to fairly compete.
“The appointment of Darryl Plecas was both unfair and not democratic,” Evans wrote in a press release.
“The only reason for Darryl Plecas’ appointment was that he could not defend a challenge from Moe Gill if there was a fair nomination process. This leads to the question that if Darryl can’t beat Moe Gill in a fair nomination process, how can he win against [Independent MLA] John van Dongen in an election?” he continued.
In a phone interview later, Evans pointed to the senior Liberal leadership for what he said was a betrayal to the riding association and to Gill, naming deputy premier Rich Coleman, Premier Christy Clark and Abbotsford West MLA and Finance Minister Mike de Jong as the key members in a “green light committee,” the final arbiters in approving candidates, who “threw Gill to the curb.”
Evans said Gill built up membership and funds in the riding for more than two years and was prepared to compete for the candidacy.
Coleman, the committee chairman, had come to see Evans, Gill and his wife at the Gills’ home just before the October Liberal convention and told Gill he was the candidate for Abbotsford South.
“We would just [have to] get the members out, get support behind Moe and win that nomination, but we were never given the opportunity,” said Evans.
Evans said he was later shocked when regional campaign manager Bruce Burley told him Plecas was acclaimed as the candidate, that “it was a done deal.”
“I’m appalled, that there wasn’t enough respect by the green light committee to tell Moe and tell the riding association that they weren’t going to support him, and instead they were going to support somebody else . . . that’s such a let down and such a lie. I’m just absolutely beside myself,” said Evans.
He said having Plecas acclaimed in Abbotsford South didn’t make sense to the board.
“[Plecas] never participated in the party, he’s hasn’t been in the riding association ever, he didn’t raise any memberships, didn’t raise any money,” said Evans. “He’s got no experience, no connections. He didn’t even go to Whistler for the convention – how serious a candidate can he be?”
The riding association board decided they had no choice but to resign, and on Tuesday, they decided to go public.
“We just think the best thing now is to bring this into the public’s eye, and let them make a decision on what’s fair and reasonable.”
A veteran political player behind the scenes for 15 years, Evans said he was surprised and disappointed at the party’s handling of Gill and the riding association.
“It’s this backroom B.S. that’s completely undermining credibility of the B.C. Liberals, and it’s not just some little flunky doing this – it’s the finance minister and the deputy premier. It’s absolutely amazing,” Evans said.
He added he now has some sympathy for van Dongen’s complaints about the B.C. Liberal leadership.
When asked if he’d go visit van Dongen, Evans said, “I just might do that. I just might go visit the NDP. My options are open.”
Former riding association president Ron Gladiuk will now be the acting president. He said Evans and the other board members “took over” the executive after Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen left the party with the intent of installing Gill as the candidate.
“If they had undertaken an honest search for a candidate, then things would’ve been fine, but they had already selected their candidate. They were not interested in promoting the riding, or promoting the party, as far as I could see,” said Gladiuk.
As a past president, he was technically a board member, but said he had been left out of the loop – Evans, however, said Gladiuk chose not to attend meetings.
Gladiuk added he wasn’t aware of any rift among members in the riding, except for the six who left. The riding membership’s job now is to support Plecas, he said.
For his part, Plecas said on Wednesday his first reaction to the riding association board quitting en masse was “surprise on one hand, not surprised on the other.”
He explained that he had been told by Liberal campaign headquarters that Gill would run in Abbotsford-Mission, from which MLA Randy Hawes was retiring, and assumed there were no other candidates in Abbotsford South.
He had never spoken to the unhappy board members, but also assumed they would resign to follow Gill to the other riding.
“I just did whatever people do and filled out the papers,” he said.
Plecas had been asked to run for the Liberals over the years, but always gave the same answer, “when hell freezes over,” and that was still his response when Coleman repeated the invitation in the summer, he said.
However, he changed his mind after he heard a New Democrat critic give what he said was a partisan response to Jeffery Cowper’s report on the criminal justice system, released in August. The critic blamed the provincial courts backlog on the Liberals, but the problems had been growing over 40 years, he said.
“It was just a stupid political response rather than focusing on the issues,” said Plecas. “I’m just not into political BS – I’m probably the anti-Christ of politics. I’m going to tell it like it is.”
However, in his release, Evans questioned if Plecas’ familial connection to Coleman may have helped his candidacy.
Plecas acknowledged Coleman’s son is married to his niece, but noted that he had been speaking to Coleman, who was solicitor general in the past, for years before the two were married.
“The notion of somehow getting into politics because of a family connection, that would just be stupid,” said Plecas.
The University of the Fraser Valley criminologist and RCMP research chair at the school admits he is bewildered by the controversy in which he finds himself.
“I had no idea how complicated it was going to be. The Liberals are low in the polls, the leader hasn’t seemed to resonate with the people, and now this on top of it. Could I be in a worse situation?” he said.
“But I’m optimistic, I’m a fighter. If I folded my tent I’d be like the rest of the people who say an NDP win is a foregone conclusion. That’s just not logical.”
He said despite some good NDP policies, having them win the 2013 election “would be catastrophe.”
“It’s not that I don’t love some things about the NDP – I do – but just don’t give them any money, they’ll just throw it away. They are not inherently inclusive, and the Conservatives on the other end of the scale, are not inherently inclusive either,” said Plecas.
The “acid test” will come on election day, and so far, Plecas said he’s received encouraging emails from across Canada from colleagues who know “I’m going to tell it like it is, that I’m into change.”
“Government is not open, it’s not transparent. We waste so much money because we don’t make the right decisions based on evidence,” he said. “It’s so different than what I’m used to doing academics.”