British Columbia

'Hells Angels have good leaders… Mafia has good leaders': B.C. Speaker's speech draws heckles, prompts apology

"I'm sorry if I offended you. I was speaking too candidly or sounded like I was speaking in a manner which was offensive," Darryl Plecas said to delegates, after a speech that was interrupted by several heckles and rebuttals. 

Darryl Plecas's speech was intended to be about effective leadership, restoring faith in elected office

B.C. Speaker Darryl Plecas, seen here in the B.C. Legislature, apologized on May 8, 2019, at the end of his keynote speech to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association for any offence he caused local politicians . (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The Speaker of British Columbia's legislature intended to give a speech on the importance of finding politicians who have the moral compass necessary to be effective leaders and restore people's faith in elected office.

But by the end of Darryl Plecas's opening keynote address to about 150 municipal politicians Wednesday at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, he was apologizing for his own remarks, which included stating the heads of the Hells Angels and Mafia were effective leaders and comparing disingenuous public consultation with sexual assault.   

"I'm sorry if I offended you. I was speaking too candidly or sounded like I was speaking in a manner which was offensive," he said to delegates after a speech that was interrupted by several heckles and rebuttals. 

A tape of Plecas's speech was provided to CBC News. While he received applause at the beginning for talking about the need for whistleblowers and positive decorum in the legislature, it shows mayors and councillors starting to grumble after Plecas claimed most people he talked to are unable to name five people they would want to be mayor of their cities. 

"The current state of affairs is is pretty pathetic," he said. 

Leadership abilities of mafia, Trump

Minutes later, Plecas seemed to provide a partial endorsement of the leadership abilities of criminal leaders and Donald Trump, resulting in several people speaking out. 

"Being the leader, or even a so-called successful one, is not necessarily anything to be proud of, because you want to know good leaders? I can introduce you to lots of them — people who are seen as good leaders.

"Hells Angels have good leaders. Organized crime generally has good leaders. Mafia has good leaders," he said. 

"As much as I personally despise Trump, he must be doing something right. Because most Americans think he's great."

Trump lost the popular vote in the 2016 American election and, in polls, his approval ratings have consistently been under 50 per cent.

When reached for comment, Plecas said he meant they were seen as good leaders, but that leadership isn't necessarily about results.

"[They're] seen as good leaders. That doesn't mean that they are. Simply because someone has had success as a leader, they've achieved goals, doesn't mean they did it in a manner which is the right way."

Plecas has become a polarizing figure in provincial politics after he chose to run for Speaker in 2017 — thereby stabilizing the new NDP government — despite being elected as a B.C. Liberal MLA.

He was removed as a Liberal member and recently has received national attention for his investigations into spending by longtime officials in the B.C. Legislature, who have since been placed on indefinite leave. 

Arguments with delegates 

Plecas also criticized politicians who don't engage collaboratively before making decisions. 

"It's like First Nations people say, when people say to them, governments say, 'we're consulting.' You're already laughing. Yeah, what a bunch of rubbish. No, we don't want consulting. That's like, if that was OK, you could say to somebody who was sexually assaulted, 'well, you consulted first.'" 

Plecas told CBC News the anecdote came directly from an Indigenous woman.

"She was trying to make the same point I made. She obviously did it better than I did. But my point is, and was intended to be, that simply consulting doesn't mean you've done it properly," he said.

As his speech went on, Plecas acknowledged the criticism he was receiving from the floor.

"I'm not saying everybody who's in elected office is horrible. I am saying it's a fact that most Canadians think that ... I know it's different at the municipal level where you don't have the same partisanship," he said.  

And as he wrapped up his speech, Plecas seemed to predict what the fallout would be.

"Almost nobody is ever going to tell you what they really think. They might say nice things to your face. But so does your dog. Just like when I leave here, there will be negativity."

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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