B.C.’s multiculturalism minister resigned Monday, the latest victim in a growing ethnic voter scandal that has rocked Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government.
John Yap, advanced education minister and the minister responsible for multiculturalism, stepped down even though he said he was “caught completely off guard” by the leak of a government multicultural plan last week, which was written three months before he became minister.
“I am the minister responsible, this is an issue that involves multiculturalism, and the responsibility rests with me,” Yap told reporters.
Yap’s departure is the second resignation related to the ethnic outreach scandal. The premier’s longtime adviser and deputy chief of staff, Kim Haakstad, resigned Friday.
The draft multicultural outreach plan, with a 2012 date, appears to show officials in the premier’s office, the Multiculturalism Ministry, and the Liberal caucus collaborating to use taxpayer resources to help the B.C. Liberal Party attract voters in ethnic communities and improve the chance of winning key ridings in the May 14 provincial election.
The document also encouraged the B.C. government to offer apologies for historical wrongs to ethnic communities as “quick wins” for the Liberal party.
In the legislature Monday, the premier again apologized to British Columbians, calling it a “very serious mistake.”
“It was wrong, and I’m very, very sorry that it was ever created,” she said. “So I want to start by offering that personal and very sincere apology.”
Clark sidestepped questions on whether she planned to resign over the scandal, saying she wants to see the outcome of an investigation by her deputy minister, John Dyble.
“When we have all the facts, and when the report is tabled, we’ll be likely required to take further action, and I will take that action,” she said when asked if she would resign.
The multicultural plan has outraged some ethnic community groups, and plunged the Clark government into crisis.
Several MLAs and cabinet ministers broke ranks to publicly criticize the plan and the premier’s response last week.
Clark apologized to them Monday and told media she should have cancelled a newspaper editorial board meeting when the crisis broke Thursday to deliver her apology personally in the legislature. Instead, deputy premier Rich Coleman read her statement.
So far, Clark appears to have held angry MLAs in check.
Cabinet ministers publicly pledged support for the premier after an emergency meeting Sunday.
Liberal MLAs emerged froma caucus meeting at the legislature Monday also professing support and saying they stand together as a caucus.
The Opposition NDP released a new document Monday that showed “action items” by officials in the premier’s office, ministries and caucus in executing the plan, which targeted the Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese communities.
Haakstad’s name is all over ethnic outreach documents leaked to the Opposition NDP, including an email that described her as “keeper of the files.”
Pamela Martin, the premier’s director of outreach, and Barinder Bhullar, her senior outreach officer, are also named in the documents but have not resigned.
Clark continued to insist the premier’s office did not draft the document, though Haakstad did oversee its development.
“There’s no question in the documents that were released that she oversaw its creation and there’s no question that she should have put a stop to it when she saw what was in the documents. She didn’t,” Clark said.
“If you want any proof of that, that she was responsible, ultimately it’s the fact she resigned.”
Clark’s government will face its first test of solidarity Tuesday when it votes on the next stage of the provincial budget.