Les Leyne: ‘Quick wins’ scandal not fading away

The ethnic outreach-quick wins scandal flashed by so quickly, some might be puzzled by last week’s resurrection of the phrase. So a refresher may be in order.

The criminal justice branch revealed last week that a special prosecutor was appointed Aug. 29 to work with police looking into a complaint partly related to the issue.

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Moments after that news broke, New Democratic Party Leader Adrian Dix disclosed he was the one who filed the complaint, in August.

Most thought the affair was over and done with by that point. It had blown up in the legislature in late February. A minister and some staff resigned, a big review had been ordered and abject apologies by Premier Christy Clark were tendered.

Soon after the scandal died down, the election campaign started in April and the B.C. Liberals won. It resurfaced in July with the release of thousands of pages of documents from the earlier review. But it faded away quickly again.

By August, the quick-wins affair was thought to have been a quick little chapter in the history books. Behind the scenes, though, it appears some loose ends started to unravel.

Dix said information subsequently came to light that, together with leftover questions from the review of all the documents, prompted him to write the RCMP.

Not much is known about the subsequent information. But the original issue generated a lot of interest in a brief period of time.

A series of leaked emails among B.C. Liberal staff provided to the NDP showed a concentrated effort in 2011 to design a plan to reach out to ethnic communities, one that was well outside the rules governing public officials’ activities.

The “draft multicultural strategic outreach plan” discussed merging and co-ordinating partisan political efforts with government programs and staff. It referred to collecting lists of names from government programs for Liberal party use. It referred to official apologies by the government for historical wrongs to ethnic groups as a potential “quick win” for the Liberals.

And it stressed a need for secrecy and subterfuge — by using personal email accounts, not government ones.

The Liberals were caught off-guard by the emails when the NDP released them in February. Clark was away from the legislature and stayed mute for a day. Some cabinet ministers recognized how serious the matter was and took matters into their own hands, crafting an apology for the plan.

Clark followed up a day later with a series of personal apologies, and ordered her deputy minister, John Dyble, to review the issue, just from a public-service standpoint.

Although Multiculturalism Minister John Yap was not the minister responsible at the time the plan was discussed, he resigned. So did Clark’s deputy chief of staff, Kim Haakstad. Another key player in the plan, Brian Bonney, had left his government job earlier.

By mid-March, Dyble and three other deputy ministers submitted their report on the issue. It found Haakstad and Bonney violated public-service standards and there had been a misuse of government resources.

The B.C. Liberal party also repaid $70,000 to the government, representing an estimate of how much government time was spent improperly on partisan work.

And that was about as far as it went.

No one knows at this point where the second run of the quick-wins scandal will go. But most expect it will take a lot longer than the first one to sort out.

Just So You Know: Elsewhere in this newspaper, colleague Rob Shaw outlines the new approach being taken on indemnifying political appointees from potential legal bills if they run afoul of the law.

It’s a complicated situation, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer on whether Haakstad, Bonney and others will be covered for any legal bills as the RCMP investigation proceeds. The issue came to a head with the decision to forgive $6 million in legal bills rung up by defendants Dave Basi and Bob Virk after they pleaded guilty to corruption charges in the B.C. Rail scandal.

The government appears to have some discretion in deciding if the players in the quick-wins scandal will be covered. That decision will be closely watched.

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