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B.C. leg wraps with parting MLAs bidding adieu as Liberals deal with scandal

VICTORIA - British Columbia's last legislative session before the May provincial election came to a close Thursday with heartfelt goodbyes, some unfinished legislation and a report that could cripple the Liberals' chances for re-election.

VICTORIA - British Columbia's last legislative session before the May provincial election came to a close Thursday with heartfelt goodbyes, some unfinished legislation and a report that could cripple the Liberals' chances for re-election.

A handful of outgoing MLAs stood up for a final time in the house to bid farewell and give thanks to their colleagues and families for support during the years they spent serving the province.

Colin Hansen, the Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena, raised his eyes to the gallery and appeared choked as he introduced his wife Laura, who was attending a legislative session for the first time in his years in government.

"I must say as this job is what it is, I haven't been home as much as I would have liked over the past 17 years," he said.

"I know I've got some new scars, I've got a lot more grey hair and I've got 17 years of chores to catch up at home. And quite frankly, I look forward to it."

Hansen is expected to stay on in a behind-the-scenes political role advising the B.C. Liberals as they seek re-election.

Kevin Falcon, the Liberal MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale, said that while he regrets that his wife and three-week-old baby daughter couldn't attend, his three-year-old was watching her father from the gallery.

He thanked the speaker and his office for giving her colouring books, and added his thanks "to all of you who have been so kind and generous to make Josephine's stay here a wonderful one, while she has her dad working in the building."

Opposition New Democrat MLA Dawn Black said her husband also attended to see her "last day." She said they've been married almost 48 years and have three sons and seven grandchildren.

"I'm very much looking forward to having more time to spend with them."

But once the tender moments were over, the politicians returned to challenging one another and especially Premier Christy Clark, who faces a tough re-election campaign.

Earlier in the day her deputy minister released a damning report on the government's much-maligned ethnic-vote winning strategy.

John Dyble found "serious" misuse of government resources, including that a former Liberal government communications official worked for both the government caucus and the Liberal party while he was being paid as a government employee.

The leaked ethnic-outreach strategy suggested Liberal government staffers co-ordinate activities with the BC Liberal Party to court ethnic voters through actions described as quick wins, which involved making apologies in the ethnic communities for historic wrongs.

Dyble's report came just hours before the legislature adjourned after a five-week session that saw the government approve legislation to bring back the provincial sales tax following a disastrous three-year experience with the harmonized sales tax.

Another piece of legislation will allow the province to appoint its next auditor general for a single, eight-year term.

Legislation to elect B.C.'s next senator and to pool pensions was put on hold, while the Liberals decided to study proposals for a forestry bill more after widespread concerns were raised.

Legislation to appoint a seniors' advocate and to promote community justice in relation to drugs squeaked through on Thursday.

Before entering the final sitting, Clark said she can't wait to get on the campaign trail for the May 14 election.

"People are going to see a lot more of me over the next month or so," she said. "I hope they'll see a lot more of the opposition too. We're going to engage in what I hope is a real competition of ideas, our vision for the province, where we stand as leaders."

Reflecting on the end of session, Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong said there was no question the Dyble report was a difficult issue to deal with.

"At the same time, though, the government, I believe, distinguished itself nationally by tabling a budget that was no-nonsense, that was disciplined and that has received, ironically, a lot of positive attention outside of British Columbia."

Also serving as finance minister, de Jong introduced a budget last month that forecasts a surplus of almost $200 million next year after five consecutive deficit budgets.

"If there's a frustration, it's that we again heard very little from the opposition about the alternatives."

Opposition House Leader John Horgan summed up all that's happened prior to the upcoming campaign with a different tone.

"I think it's been a bad day, it's been a bad week, it's been a bad month, it's been a bad year for the B.C. Liberals," he said.

"I would not want to be a B.C. Liberal candidate in a non-incumbent riding going up against an opposition that I believe is ready to govern and a government that's ready for opposition.

"I think what the Liberals need more than anything else is a time-out."

Adrian Dix's New Democrats say they are well-prepared and waiting to take on the governing party after 12 years and three terms in opposition.

— With files from Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver and Dirk Meissner in Victoria