Les Leyne: Cabinet forced premier to apologize

Premier Christy Clark’s own cabinet forced the apology she issued this week for the ethnic-outreach scandal.

It was sloppy, rushed and delivered second-hand. It won’t mollify taxpayers whose employees were targeted for enlistment in the B.C. Liberal cause. It won’t appease ethnic groups that were targeted for exploitation. But there wasn’t much hope for that anyway. Its real purpose was to keep the B.C. Liberals from imploding.

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To recap, it’s widely assumed that a disaffected former government staffer left his job with a trove of email records, and is now doling them out to the Opposition.

The first batch suggested a wide-ranging plan from last year to knit government staff into the B.C. Liberal re-election effort, and use opportunities like formal apologies about historic wrongs for quick political wins.

A second dump showed eager new multicultural outreach workers on the government payroll being instructed by a party hack — completely incomprehensibly — on how to do it all surreptitiously, by using only personal e-mail accounts. (“Please do not send .. using the form we sent you!!!” “Use any format you like, but not the form we asked you to use.”)

The funny thing about the level of idiocy in that sample is that they were also keen to communicate better with ethnic groups in their own languages. Hey guys: You need to work on being understood in English first.

When the issue broke, the B.C. Liberals followed the traditional pattern: Hang together, deflect the issue and hope it goes away.

Multiculturalism Minister John Yap got sustained applause from his own side for repeatedly ignoring the questions. At one point he was reading multicultural-grant recipients into the record, trying to wind down the clock.

But over Wednesday night, the full import of the issue seemed to sink in. It dawned just as quiet dissatisfaction within the Liberal ranks about Clark’s performance as premier escalated.

By Thursday some thoroughly fed-up Liberals were ready to go to the wall. The government’s apparent strategy of minimizing the issue wasn’t going to cut it.

Clark was sitting down around mid-day with the Vancouver Sun editorial board for an on-the-record talk.

Nowhere in that conversation did she apologize or indicate an apology was in the works.

Around the same time, her cabinet was meeting to plan for the upcoming question period. Halfway through that meeting, about a dozen aides in the room were asked to leave. After they walked out, the cabinet ministers decided over the course of 30 minutes to take on the premier directly.

They decided an apology most certainly would be made, and it would be made by her, or she would find herself short at least one cabinet minister.

Sources say Clark did not participate by conference call, and had to be informed by her chief of staff that cabinet had changed her game plan.

The actual apology was written on a blank, undated piece of paper. They couldn’t even manage to get her signature on it. It was photocopied a few dozen times and given to a staff member, who scrambled down the hallway handing out copies just before question period started.

When deputy premier Rich Coleman read it into the record in the house, it was striking what a difference a day makes.

Where Yap’s non-answers got waves of desk-thumping, Coleman got nothing. The Liberal benches looked completely whipped, as the contrite front-bencher apologized abjectly eight times in a row.

In an indefinable way, you could feel Clark’s authority to lead the government seeping out of the building. The ethnic-outreach scandal ignited the showdown, but a lot of disappointment, resentment and frustration about other things contributed.

The terms of reference released Friday for the investigation suggest it will take a lot longer than the 24 hours Coleman threw out as a time frame to get to the bottom of this. It may allow the government to calm down.

They may be counting on the deputy chief of staff’s sudden resignation Friday to buy time, as well.

But over her 102 weeks in power, the one thing that’s become clear is that the pessimistic bet is always the safest as far as the premier is concerned.

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