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Darryl Plecas, centre, looks on from the legislative assembly in Victoria on Friday. In a move that has stunned the BC Liberals, Mr. Plecas volunteered to become Speaker of the provincial Legislature, a move he had previously described as ‘dishonourable.’

CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Just three months ago, BC Liberal Darryl Plecas categorically ruled out serving as Speaker of the province's Legislature, saying such a move would be "dishonourable" and amount to crossing the floor. After all, the standings in the legislature meant a Liberal Speaker would effectively hand a majority to the governing New Democrats and Greens, allowing them to comfortably win votes without the need to worry about triggering a snap election.

By Friday, Mr. Plecas had a change of heart. He volunteered to become Speaker after telling his own party – as recently as a day earlier, according to the Liberals – that he would not, and in the process ensured the Liberals would remain in Opposition for the foreseeable future, potentially for years.

The BC Liberals were apoplectic. The party's interim Leader condemned it as a betrayal and his local riding president was left dumbfounded.

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Mr. Plecas declined to explain himself.

"He misled me," Liberal Leader Rich Coleman told reporters after Mr. Plecas was acclaimed. "I'll respect the chair, but I don't have to respect him."

Mr. Plecas had been courted for months to abandon his party and sit as Speaker, which would allow the NDP government an additional, much-needed vote in the House.

The NDP has established a minority government in June, based on a pact with the three-member Green caucus, but still faced a difficult road ahead if forced to provide a Speaker from their own benches; an NDP Speaker would have resulted in routine tied votes that the Speaker would be called upon to break.

In June, Mr. Plecas told the local newspaper in his riding of Abbotsford South that he was not interested. He said it would be inappropriate for a Liberal to prop up the NDP-Green alliance by becoming Speaker. "I was elected as a Liberal," he told the Abbotsord News. "It would be very disrespectful of me, very dishonourable, for me to [do] what … would in effect be crossing the floor."

Mr. Plecas warmed to the job – which comes with many perks, including a 50-per-cent wage hike above his backbench MLA's salary – after he confronted then-premier Christy Clark about her leadership following the Liberal election loss at a caucus meeting in July. Ms. Clark subsequently resigned as leader and gave up her Legislature seat, which had already eroded the BC Liberals' position in the Legislature.

Andrew Weaver, the Green Party Leader, said he had an encouraging phone conversation with Mr. Plecas in early August about the Speaker's job.

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Since the Speaker does not vote, the Liberals now have just 41 votes in the Legislature, compared with a combined total of 44 for the New Democrats and Greens.

Mr. Plecas, who had sat on the government backbenches under Ms. Clark's government, won his Abbotsford South seat in last May's election handily with 52 per cent of the vote, far above the New Democrats' share of 28 per cent.

Ron Gladiuk, the Liberal riding president for Abbotsford South, said Mr. Plecas did not give him any advanced warning about his plans. He said Mr. Plecas owes his party, his riding executive and his constituents an explanation.

"That to me is a complete about-face," Mr. Gladiuk said in an interview. "I don't understand it. … I'm at a complete loss as to why he made a decision and how he justifies his position."

Mr. Gladiuk said it would be difficult for Mr. Plecas to secure the Liberal nomination to run for re-election.

British Columbia has legislation that allows voters to recall MLAs, although that cannot happen until 18 months after an election.

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Mr. Gladiuk said it was too early to speculate whether anyone in the riding might consider launching that process.

On Friday morning, the Lieutenant-Governor arrived and, as expected, declared she could not conduct the business of the Legislature without a Speaker in place. By then, it was clear that only Mr. Plecas had agreed to allow his name to stand for the position.

Earlier in the morning, Mr. Plecas, who had skipped his Liberal caucus meeting, sat inside the House as a string of New Democrats approached him at his desk to speak with him. At the caucus meeting, the Liberals learned that Mr. Plecas was standing for the job, and they discussed how they would respond in the House.

While the New Democrats and Greens loudly applauded as Mr. Plecas took his seat, the Liberal Opposition benches were uniformly silent.

Mr. Coleman later told reporters that the decision to expel Mr. Plecas from the Liberal caucus and the party had not yet been taken – but that his former colleague had effectively joined the New Democrats across the floor with his decision.

"You've de factor become a member of the NDP," he said. "I think it will be very disappointing for the people that knocked on doors, made phone calls, donated, spent thousands of hours to get him elected."

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Premier John Horgan gave a speech to the Legislature in which he warmly welcomed the new Speaker and later said it was proof parties can work together.

"I understand Mr. Plecas was enthusiastic about (the new role) after the change in leadership in their party," Mr. Horgan told reporters.

"I'm very pleased not just for the stability it brings to this legislative session, but for the signal it sends to British Columbians that New Democrats, Greens and a Liberal have demonstrated we can work together on the things that matter to people."

The Speaker is a non-partisan arbiter of the House, and does not attend caucus meetings and usually does not vote. Mr. Coleman said he will have difficulty accepting Mr. Plecas in that role. "Obviously there's a question of integrity in some of our minds with the Speaker, who has to have a lot of integrity, and I don't think anybody should be surprised there is some question about that."

Mr. Plecas' new position will increase his annual compensation as a B.C. MLA from $106,000 to $159,000.

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