Premier, cabinet in emergency meeting today as ethnic-vote scandal festers

Premier Christy Clark has called a special meeting of her cabinet for later today as her government braces for further questions about a controversial strategy to woo ethnic voters.

The premier’s office confirmed Saturday evening that Clark and her ministers will meet at 4 p.m. today in Vancouver. The purpose of the meeting is to “plan for the week ahead,” spokesman Ben Chin said.

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It’s rare for cabinet to hold a Sunday meeting, but the Liberals are reeling after days of criticism and the resignation of one of Clark’s closest aides, Kim Haakstad.

James Plett, vice-president of the party’s Surrey-Tynehead riding association also resigned Friday, calling the plan to woo ethnic voters with public resources “abhorrent on so many levels.”

The resignation of Haakstad, Clark’s longtime friend, supporter and deputy chief of staff, was seen as a massive personal blow to the premier just months before the May 14 election.

Now, with the party’s political future hanging in the balance, some are openly wondering whether Haakstad’s resignation will be enough to placate Clark’s visibly disgruntled caucus or repair the party’s tarnished image.

“It fits into that image the public already has formed about the Liberal brand, dating back to the HST, of distrust and politically unethical behaviour,” said Norman Ruff, a political-science professor emeritus at the University of Victoria.

“You don’t come much closer politically to the premier than Kim Haakstad. This is extremely serious.”

Haakstad’s resignation comes on the release of yet another confidential government document that clearly places the origins of a controversial ethnic-vote-winning strategy inside the premier’s office.

The four-page spreadsheet, titled Multicultural Outreach — Co-ordinated Effort Meeting, was instrumental in creating the Multicultural Outreach Plan that caused a huge stir earlier this week when it was sent out by the B.C. NDP.

In addition to directly placing Haakstad, other members of the Premier’s Office and senior members of government caucus in a meeting relating to the plan, it also offers evidence that some aspects of the strategy may have been completed as early as December 2011.

According to the spreadsheet, Brian Bonney, then the communications director for former multiculturalism minister Harry Bloy, was involved in drafting a plan and laying out the job responsibilities relating to “partisan outreach staff.”

Not only was this part of the plan listed as “complete,” but two of the needed three outreach staff had also been “hired.” Funding had also been secured “until the end of fiscal,” but it is not clear whether the money was provided by the two options shown: caucus or party.

The hiring of outreach contractors, which is found in the spreadsheet under the subheading “Build Lists,” was an issue hammered at this week by the NDP on release of the finalized document.

According to FOI documents released as part of the NDP’s bombshell, the government did initiate a process in July 2012 to hire four contractors — labelled as partisan operatives by the NDP — to perform “community liaison services.”

While the FOIs suggested four contractors had been selected, the contracts were never signed and the process was terminated in November 2012, the government has said.

Asked about the two hires mentioned in the spreadsheet, a government spokesperson said there would be no further comment on the leaked plan until a review into the matter, launched Thursday by Clark, had been completed.

Much like the final plan, the spreadsheet breaks down the duties of the people involved in the strategy into two categories: lead and support. It also provides a timeline and status column for each of the 11 main categories and dozens of subcategories.

The targeted ethnicities are listed as Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese.

The document also appears to serve as the minutes for a meeting in December 2011 — the contents of the document were last updated Dec. 8, 2011 — attended by members of Clark’s office, including Haakstad, Clark’s director of outreach Pamela Martin and senior outreach coordinator Barinder Bhullar.

Also in attendance were Bonney, Bloy’s then-executive assistant Dave Ritchie, caucus outreach director Lorne Mayencourt, then-caucus communications officer Jeff Melland, caucus executive director Primrose Carson and Fiera Lo, then an employee of the B.C. Liberals.

Many of the key action items identified in the spreadsheet appear in the final plan, which was sent out from Haakstad’s personal email on Jan. 10, 2012, to the bulk of the people present at the December meeting.

According to the document, Martin and Bonney were to be the leads, with support from Bhullar and Mayencourt. Areas of focus for Haakstad included “blockbuster” events and meetings, and defining whether a “Multicultural Advisory Committee” was government or party. The latter was listed as a “first priority.”

— With a file from Times Colonist and The Canadian Press

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