There’s little doubt high-ranking employees of the premier’s office advanced a proposal that would have used government resources for political purposes, but the hit on the public purse is negligible. Of greater concern is the callous intent to manipulate an emotional, sensitive issue for political gain.
Documents leaked to the New Democratic Party outline a strategy in which officials in the premier’s office, ministries and the B.C. Liberal caucus planned to court ethnic voters using government resources and information from government databases. Government apologies for historical wrongs were seen as “quick wins” for the B.C. Liberal party in attracting ethnic support leading up to the May 14 election.
During the legislature’s question period Thursday, a sombre deputy premier Rich Coleman read Premier Christy Clark’s apology.
“The document did not recognize there are lines that cannot be crossed in conducting this outreach and it is unacceptable,” Clark said in her statement. “The language in this document and some of the recommendations are absolutely inappropriate.”
The apology comes a day late and more than a dollar short. When the Opposition brought up the subject during Wednesday’s question period, it was left to an obviously uncomfortable John Yap, minister responsible for multiculturalism, to deal with the barrage launched from the other side. Yap didn’t answer the questions, but responded by repeatedly outlining what the government has done in the realm of multiculturalism.
Perhaps that was the moment for Coleman or Clark to acknowledge the seriousness of the allegations and promise an immediate and thorough investigation, instead of waiting 24 hours, but it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. The strategy document in question was drafted more than a year ago. The fact that it is only now brought into the light is a sad commentary on the attitudes of the many people who would have seen it.
Clark said some of the recommendations are inappropriate. “Inappropriate” is belching at the dinner table — using government resources for political purposes is illegal, prohibited by the Public Service Act.
Her statement about the document not recognizing that certain lines cannot be crossed evokes an image of dewy-eyed innocence accidentally wandering into forbidden territory. But there are no shades of grey here. These were people deeply involved in politics and government, who clearly know where the boundaries are, and it appears they leaped over them, willingly and deliberately.
This issue might not make much difference to the public perception of politicians — just another ho-hum instance of political manipulation and manoeuvring. Happens all the time. Big deal.
But by trying to exploit an issue such as an apology for racist immigration policies that kept ethnic Chinese families apart, the strategy’s authors throw dirt onto a cause close to the hearts of many. It shows lack of respect, not only for those of Chinese origin, but for all British Columbians who believe in an open and egalitarian society.
That the premier’s apology was humble is not in doubt. The sincerity of the apology will be made evident by the actions taken. It requires a clean and thorough investigation. Anything that looks like damage control will taint the process, adding further insult.
A reminder to the B.C. Liberals or anyone concerned about the forthcoming election — the best political strategy is honest and competent government.
© Copyright 2013