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Les Leyne: Now it’s NDP’s turn in the hot seat

It turns out the B.C. Liberals aren’t the only ones who ran into trouble with dubious ethnic-outreach schemes. After feasting on scandalous revelations about the B.C.

It turns out the B.C. Liberals aren’t the only ones who ran into trouble with dubious ethnic-outreach schemes.

After feasting on scandalous revelations about the B.C. Liberals’ plan to use government for political purposes, the New Democrats got some blowback on Tuesday.

Documents from an increasingly leaky legislature show the NDP caucus siphoned money out of every MLAs’ constituency account to fund a standing contract for a Chinese-Canadian adviser who helps them reach Asian voters.

And auditor general John Doyle roasted them for the practice in a secret draft report several years ago.

Doyle, as part of his scorching report on slipshod legislature accounting, took a hard look at the NDP caucus budget. He identified measures that disguised the fact the caucus ran over budget for at least two years.

“NDP caucus expenses were reported as being within budget for fiscal 2008 and 2009, when they actually were over budget,” Doyle said.

The amounts weren’t significant, but he said the entries resulted in a “material misstatement” of the legislature’s financial records, which would have misled readers.

They also developed the practice of dinging each NDP MLA about $200 a month from their constituency office budget and creating a centralized fund, starting in 2005.

The stated purpose was “to collectively and efficiently respond to common constituency needs.”

But Doyle said there was a significant risk that the funds were not being used for purposes consistent with the purpose of the constituency allowance.

He said the money “was being used for partisan purposes and not for goods or services consistent with the original purpose of the constituency office allowance.”

If using resources improperly for partisan purposes sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what the NDP has been accusing the government of doing.

The issue eventually reached the legislative assembly management committee, where yet another leaked document shows the fund grew to $459,790 by 2011.

And most of the money was used to contract Gabriel Yiu’s services for the NDP caucus.

Yiu is a media personality and political consultant who has run twice for the NDP and is running again.

Liberals suggest he is more or less a professional NDP candidate, retained with money that was supposed to be spent in the NDP constituencies. He disengages at election time, but over the past several years has been paid by the NDP to help connect with Asian voters.

The NDP had a ready answer to the questions raised — it was all approved by the legislature’s accounting office.

Under the insipid financial controls that were in place at the time, all they needed was the comptroller’s approval, which they obtained.

That was hardly enough for the Liberals, who relished the chance to throw the issue back in the faces of the Opposition.

Cabinet minister Bill Bennett said: “I’m the MLA for Kootenay East. If my party called me up and said: ‘Bill, you’re going to send us $200 every month ... and we’re going to use it however we want to use it ...’ I would tell them to take a flying leap.

“To me that’s the worst thing about this. They’ve actually taken money that was supposed to be used for the benefit of people who live out there in these constituencies.”

NDP caucus chair Shane Simpson said, despite Doyle’s findings, it was all open and above-board, approved by the MLAs each year and carried on the legislature’s books.

The moves that hid the deficits were just one-day transfers to cover some benefit costs, also approved by the comptroller, Simpson said.

There are two other aspects of the story that come down on either side of the issue. The first is that Doyle didn’t include his criticisms in the report released last year. They were in “management letters” that circulated internally. At one point he was labelling it “fraud,” but was talked out of that finding by NDP caucus officials. That tends to downplay the findings. (He has an update on the legislature accounting to be released today.)

The second is that, for all the defences offered Tuesday, the NDP caucus emptied the fund last year and returned a significant balance to the MLAs’ constituency accounts. If it’s all open and above-board, why did they wind it up?

Simpson said it has just been suspended, and a new caucus could resurrect the idea.

Given the fuss created by its discovery, that’s highly unlikely.