B.C. Liberals win crucial vote on budget; premier pledges to stay in job

An emboldened Premier Christy Clark led her government through a crucial confidence vote in the legislature Tuesday and pledged she’ll stay on the job no matter what’s uncovered in an internal investigation into an ethnic outreach scandal.

The Clark government picked up the support of two independent MLAs and sailed through a vote on its budget by a count of 45 to 38.

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The premier rallied all but one of her MLAs — backbencher Kash Heed was away on a personal matter — despite being rocked by a scandal over ethnic voters that has raised questions within her own party about her future as leader.

“It’s been a difficult couple of days for our caucus, but in passing the budget today I think what we demonstrated is we’re staying focused on our goals and our agenda,” Clark said.

The budget vote was largely a procedural victory — the budget won’t technically pass before the May 14 provincial election. However, it was also a test of Clark’s ability to unify her slim majority on a confidence vote that could have brought down her government.

Clark’s deputy minister, John Dyble, launched an internal investigation last week into the multicultural ethnic outreach scandal, in the wake of leaked documents that appear to show officials in the premier’s office, government caucus, ministries and Liberal party working together, and using taxpayer resources, to encourage voters in ethnic communities to support the B.C. Liberal party.

It’s against provincial rules to conduct work for a political party on taxpayer time, or using government resources.

Multiculturalism minister John Yap and the premier’s deputy chief of staff, Kim Haakstad, have both resigned as a result of the plan becoming public.

Clark had appeared to leave the door open to her own departure on Monday. But in an editorial board meeting with the Times Colonist on Tuesday she was asked if there’s any possible way the Dyble report could cause her to resign.

“No,” she said. “I never saw [the ethnic plan]. I never directed it. And I’m here to make sure we are accountable for it, nonetheless, because it was created by people in our government.”

Clark also ruled out further discipline against other staffers until the investigation is complete. Pamela Martin, a former TV anchor and director of outreach in the premier’s office, is mentioned repeatedly in the multiculturalism plan documents.

“Kim Haakstad was the senior person involved in it, so it was appropriate that she resign,” she said.

“But lots of people have their names on lots of emails, [and] that doesn’t suggest how deeply they were involved in the creation of the document. So we don’t have the answer to those questions yet... and I’ve said when we get the answers, if it requires more action, I’ll take it.”

Clark was non-committal on whether her government will follow through with a planned apology for the Chinese head tax.

Some Chinese community officials have expressed outrage that the leaked multicultural plan described government apologies for historical wrongs as “quick wins” for the B.C. Liberal party.

“We’ll see,” Clark said, noting such an apology would need unanimous support from the Opposition NDP.

“I want to make sure that if we do it now, as opposed to after the election or another time, that we’re doing it in a way that people know is absolutely sincere. Because otherwise it shouldn’t be done. It’s the right thing to do, but I don’t want to do it in the wrong way.”

Clark said she hopes Dyble’s internal investigation will be released next week.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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