Les Leyne: Don’t bother with apology for head tax

The crass memo outlining how to appeal to ethnic groups for political wins included a reference to identifying and correcting historical wrongs involving ethnic groups. The example cited was the Komagata Maru apology. Several hundred people, mostly Sikhs, were held on the ship in Vancouver Harbour in 1914 and then turned away from Canada, based on exclusion laws.

The B.C. legislature formally apologized for the incident in 2008.

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Those moments are few and far between. The sincerity and the gravity involved make such apologies very solemn occasions.

So one of the more offensive parts of the aborted strategy was listing such an event as a “quick win.”

In the context of the rest of the document, that’s understood to mean a quick political win for the B.C. Liberals. The only similar apology that’s in the works currently is a formal act of contrition on the part of the legislature for the Chinese head tax.

One of the political wizards liked the feel and tone of the Komagata Maru apology and pitched something similar for the head tax, to pander to voters of Chinese background. Which robs the apology of any meaning.

In an editorial board meeting with the Times Colonist Tuesday, Premier Christy Clark considered whether to proceed.

Here’s some free advice: Don’t bother.

The apology is a good idea, because it gives everyone a chance to ponder history and learn from it. And members of her caucus have done a lot of sincere work in preparing for such a moment. But it’s tainted now.

Clark knows that as well as anyone: “An apology for a historic wrong is something that cannot be political, it’s something we should do, all sides of the house, that we do for the right reason.”

She said MLAs like Richard Lee and Ida Chong — both of whom have family who paid the tax — and John Yap have been working on the apology in good faith.

But she said the characterization in the outreach memo is wrong.

The key aspect of apologies is that they are unanimous expressions of the house. So the idea is probably stalled right now in any event. They’d be better off waiting for this to die down and in the spirit of the concept, learn from their recent history in order not to repeat it.

Other notes from an hour-long session:

n “It wasn’t a goodie-filled budget, it probably wasn’t the most exciting budget in the world,” she said. That’s because they didn’t hand out money and pitch big new ideas.

But she said the fundamental ideas — a new fund to pay down debt using potential liquefied natural gas revenue, constrained government spending and higher taxes on those who can afford it — are pretty far-reaching.

Clark said the best she can hope for is that people look at the budget and say: “That’s all right with me,” and carry on with their lives.

n The key aspect of the B.C. Liberal re-election effort is the strength of their candidates.

Clark and others have spent “countless hours” recruiting top-notch candidates, like Michelle Stilwell in Parksville-Qualicum.

“If we are attracting people of that calibre, those of you who have written our obituary and are looking forward to an NDP government are certainly at odds with a lot of really smart people.”

Clark said political leaders are always compared to perfection during their terms.

“But when the campaign starts, you’re compared to your opponent. I’m OK with that comparison. I won’t be running against perfection. I’ll be running against Adrian Dix.”

n Clark said she has no control over the negative attack ads on Dix being paid for by third-party interests. But she expects to see negative attack ads from third-party NDP supporters aimed at her.

n “I don’t accept the premise that the polls we see today mean very much, because we know from every election across the country that they don’t. I don’t know B.C. will be any different.”

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