Five years ago today, on Feb. 27, 2013, while Premier Christy Clark was posing in a pink shirt with high schoolers on anti-bullying day, the man who would succeed her rose to speak in Question Period.
“Today another leaked Liberal document details a plan to target ethnic voters across British Columbia, blurring the line between partisan activity and public service,” said John Horgan, the NDP opposition house leader. “The document demonstrates the folding together of government services and resources into the election machinery of the B.C. Liberal Party. A central objective of the plan is ‘making sure that government, caucus and the party are all working together…in a coordinated…manner.’
“Certainly, this side of the House supports multiculturalism in British Columbia. What we don’t support, however, is the blurring of lines between partisan activity and public service.”
The December 2011-conceived multicultural strategic outreach plan was sent by Clark’s deputy chief of staff, Kim Haakstad, to members of the party, government and caucus. It was the BC Liberal blueprint to use taxpayer-funded resources to pander to ethnic voters in swing ridings and win the 2013 election. Some of the strategies were deemed Quick Wins, which became the nickname for the scandal.
Added NDP critic Carole James: “This is a very serious issue. These documents show that an entire strategy was developed by the B.C. Liberals based on using taxpayer dollars for their own partisan purposes. The then communication director for multiculturalism was assigned to develop comprehensive lists that would help the B.C. Liberal Party — and I quote from the document — ‘bypass the media to get our message out. Be very well prepared when the writ is dropped.’
“This is a clear violation of the rules, and according to this leaked Liberal document, the Minister for Multiculturalism has full responsibility for implementation of this plan.”
Clark’s BC Liberals eventually won the 2013 election after Clark’s deputy, John Dyble, issued a whitewash report. Thousands of pages of email were finally published after the election. Some of those caught the eye of Adrian Dix, the man who would have been premier had the NDP chosen to run an aggressive campaign.
Dix complained to the RCMP and a special prosecutor, David Butcher, was appointed. It took until May 2016 for BC Liberal operative Brian Bonney to be charged with breach of public trust. A trial was scheduled to begin last October, but Bonney copped a guilty plea and was sentenced to nine months of house arrest on Jan. 31.
Had the trial occurred, it would have easily overshadowed the contest to replace Clark as leader. Court time was scheduled through Feb. 22. Ex-Multiculturalism Ministers John Yap and Harry Bloy did not cooperate with the RCMP investigation. They would have been ordered to testify.
Maybe Clark herself would have been called to answer about a brief email between two of her closest aides that says so much.
Haakstad’s Feb. 22, 2012 one-line message to Clark executive assistant Gabe Garfinkel contained the two page “Status of Multicultural Plan” attachment.
“I told PCC [Premier Christy Clark] I would give her an update on this,” Haakstad wrote. “Can you put it in her reading folder?”
Clark claimed ignorance of the plan when she talked to reporters in Prince George on March 1, 2013 and, again three days later, in the Legislature. But that was before Bonney was charged and before that email ended up in a court file.
She knew. Our she ought to have known.