VICTORIA – There was some public business conducted in the final frantic days of the B.C. legislature session last week, but you likely wouldn’t have heard much about it.
Premier Christy Clark’s skimpy governing agenda was overshadowed by the delivery of an internal investigation report into her government’s ethnic outreach program.
A review by four deputy ministers detailed what reporters already knew from a memo and meeting notes leaked to the NDP. The plan started in the premier’s office, led by Clark’s deputy chief of staff, who resigned as soon as it was made public.
A B.C. Liberal Party employee attended the first meeting, expressly intended to organize events to impress immigrant communities, then harvest the goodwill in the form of contact lists for the coming election campaign.
After 10,000 e-mails were collected and 27 interviews conducted, they revealed a few significant details.
Former multiculturalism minister John Yap knew or should have known that the scheme was being kept secret because it was an inappropriate use of government resources. He won’t be back in cabinet, although Clark said he intends to run for re-election in Richmond-Steveston.
Yap’s executive assistant resigned when the report came out, admitting he helped cover the tracks of political meddling in the hiring of three outreach contractors with sufficient loyalty to the party.
Clark insists she knew nothing of this plan. She tabled the investigation report, and then announced that the B.C. Liberal Party had written a $70,000 cheque to the government to cover the estimated cost of the inappropriate political work done by non-political staff.
Here’s the part taxpayers may not fully appreciate. There are authorized political staffers all over the legislature, in the premier’s office, the opposition leader’s office and two teams of caucus employees who spend much of their time digging up dirt on the other party. All are paid by you and me.
A line is crossed only when a non-political employee such as a ministry communications director acts on behalf of the party. The main offender in that capacity was one Brian Bonney, whose records suggested he spent half of his time on party work. He quit in February, before the plan was leaked, and the party paid back half of his salary for the 18 months he was on the public payroll.
NDP outrage over this was blunted by another leaked document. This one was from a never-released 2010 report by Auditor General John Doyle, which condemned a five-year program of skimming money from NDP constituency office budgets all over the province and using it for political work.
In a nice bit of symmetry, much of the more than $400,000 was spent to put three-time candidate Gabriel Yiu on the NDP caucus payroll. Yiu’s Vancouver-Fraserview candidate page boasts of his ethnic outreach work, which included tirelessly warning B.C.’s Chinese community about the evils of the harmonized sales tax.
In fact, it was the NDP-Yiu operation that inspired a B.C. Liberal copycat plan.
The NDP quietly stopped the budget skimming after Doyle pointed out the blindingly obvious, which is that constituency funds are to serve constituents and are not to be diverted to political organizing.
It was kept under wraps by the secretive Legislative Assembly Management Committee. This is the B.C. Liberal-NDP co-managed trough of undocumented MLA expenses and other questionable payments that Doyle has only recently dragged into the light.
Both of these schemes have the same stink. Both are intentional abuse of taxpayers’ money for the political gain of the dominant parties. There is no moral high ground for either of them.
Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com