The days of good alternatives are gone for Premier Christy Clark’s government. All that’s left now is to figure out the least worst alternative.
Six weeks before the election campaign begins, she spent the day accepting a symbolic cabinet resignation, apologizing profusely for the ethnic outreach scandal and begging for time while her deputy minister digs into the job of investigating, among other people, her.
She also took 90 minutes to smooth things over with her disenchanted caucus. That was the only clear win of the day for her. She managed to convince those present to walk past reporters without saying anything inflammatory about her leadership. (Not counting Vancouver-Fraserview MLA Kash Heed, who took a family time-out and didn’t bother attending.)
It got so bad that at one point she was apologizing for the first apology, telling reporters that she offered her sincere regrets for not returning to the legislature last week to deliver the government’s first apology in person.
That was the clumsy attempt Deputy Premier Rich Coleman read on her behalf, apologizing for the plan B.C. Liberals hatched last year to co-opt government multicultural staff for political advantage, and design apologies for historical ethnic wrongs for quick political wins.
The obvious question is whether the whirlpool generated by the leak of the plan will take her down along with John Yap, who resigned as advanced education and multiculturalism minister.
Last week, some fed-up cabinet ministers appeared ready to call her out. That prospect faded after an emergency weekend cabinet meeting and Monday’s extended caucus session. But her cryptic remark Monday about what lies ahead raised the possibility she could conceivably take herself out of play if the situation worsens.
“When we have all the facts and the report is tabled, we will likely be required to take further action, and I will take that action,” she told the media.
It could just mean she’s intent on cleaning up the mess. But all the leaked documents to date show that her office is deeply involved.
A document from a December 2011 meeting to co-ordinate the ethnic outreach effort lists several people from the premier’s office.
They include former deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad, who resigned last week, and “outreach director” Pamela Martin.
(Martin, a former TV personality, was identified as the overall lead for one particular part of the strategy: “Tying faith into plan — reach through faith.” It described multi-faith roundtables, and “identifying our supporters in key faith groups.”)
The Opposition said the list contradicts Clark’s assertion last week that her people weren’t involved in crafting the plan, and that Haakstad merely distributed it.
The Opposition has turned its document leaks over to John Dyble, deputy minister to the premier, who is running the investigation.
Yap stepped aside only because multiculturalism was his portfolio. He only assumed responsibility in March 2012, months after the offending documents were circulated.
He said he was caught completely off-guard last week when they were aired and pointed to his (inept) attempt to defend the government as proof.
So a minister resigned honourably to take responsibility for something he knew nothing about.
But where does that leave a premier who says she wants to take just as much responsibility and has at least four direct office staff implicated in the scandal?
Clark told the house “there may be new details that emerge . . . when that review is delivered, I will act on the recommendations . . . because British Columbians deserve to know not only that I am sorry but that I am prepared to accept responsibility.”
It was a day of abject grovelling for the most part, which isn’t the best way to build political momentum.
The only half-hearted defence from Clark was that the plan was just a concept. “It seems apparent at the moment that most of that document — particularly the things that most of us, including me, find most offensive — was not acted on.”
It’s Dyble who will write the end of this story.
He and three other deputy-level officials are investigating the affair. Dyble has already interviewed Haakstad and has free range to talk to anyone in government who knows about the scheme.
So, rather than gearing up for a high-energy campaign, Clark is obviously braced for more bad news. What she plans to do about it is anyone’s guess.