Premier Christy Clark ordered an internal investigation Thursday into whether taxpayer resources were inappropriately used to woo ethnic voters to the B.C. Liberal party.
Clark’s deputy premier, Rich Coleman, read her public apology to the legislature, as critics slammed the party for a second day over allegations it broke public service rules to bolster its re-election bid.
Liberal MLAs, several of whom broke ranks to criticize their own party, sat uncharacteristically quietly and offered no cheers of support.
“I want to sincerely apologize to British Columbians,” Clark said in the statement.
“The document did not recognize there are lines that cannot be crossed in conducting this outreach and it is unacceptable.
“The language in this document and some of the recommendations are absolutely inappropriate.”
Clark ordered her deputy minister, John Dyble, to investigate.
The climb-down by the governing Liberals came after documents leaked to the Opposition NDP appeared to show officials in the premier’s office, ministries and Liberal caucus planning to court voters in ethnic communities using government resources and databases.
The plan described government apologies for historical wrongs as potential “quick wins” for the Liberal party that garner ethnic support and could help win certain ridings in the May 14 provincial election.
Using taxpayer-funded government resources to boost the fortunes of a political party is against provincial rules.
The premier wasn’t at the legislature Thursday, leaving Coleman to repeatedly apologize.
“This is just not acceptable and there will be consequences,” Coleman told reporters, adding that the consequences could include firings.
“This is not going to be something that’s going to languish in any way whatsoever. I expect answers within the next 24 hours.”
Coleman promised the written review would be released publicly.
Several Liberal MLAs expressed disappointment and outrage.
“Clearly it’s wrong, what else can you say?” said Liberal MLA Randy Hawes.
Social Development Minister Moira Stilwell said “everybody has agreed that it’s wrong, inappropriate.”
Stilwell said her Jewish heritage makes her conscious of how apologies for historical wrongs need to be in the spirit of contrition and understanding, and the ethnic plan document doesn’t represent that.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the plan was “troublesome” and crossed the line.
Liberal MLA Kash Heed, a former police chief, questioned the need for the premier’s review.
“I was an investigator for 31 years — when you have such strong evidence like that [leaked plan], how much more do you have to go and investigate?
“Someone needs to be held accountable for this,” he added.
“People should be moved from their positions — either fired or moved into something else.”
People in the Indo-Canadian community have already expressed outrage that previous apologies for historical wrongs were labelled a “quick win” for the Liberals, Heed said.
The NDP followed up Thursday with more leaked documents that show government-hired multicultural outreach staff being advised to follow back channels by a political operative, despite reminders by another official that they worked for the government and not a political organization.
The premier’s apology “falls short of what is appropriate,” said NDP house leader John Horgan.
He called on the government to conduct an independent review, saying the premier’s deputy minister should not investigate other staff in the premier’s office.
“This is another quick fix by the government, and this is not the time to push this under the rug.”
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