Posted on March 1, 2013

‘It Goes Beyond the Lines’: B.C. Liberals in Damage Control over Leaked Ethnic Vote Memo

National Post, March 1, 2013

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has issued an apology and launched a review after a leaked document showed her government planned to woo ethnic votes with provincial resources.

Deputy Premier Rich Coleman read the statement in the legislature Thursday and later said he should have a good idea within 24 hours of what went wrong and how.

“Some of the things that are in this thing are unacceptable. It blurs the lines, it goes beyond the lines,” Coleman said outside the legislature as he promised to release a written report of the review.

The document caused a firestorm in the provincial legislature Thursday as the NDP continued for the second day to hammer the Liberals over the contents.

The January 2012 document leaked to the NDP and released Wednesday outlines a proposed ethnic outreach plan involving the premier’s office, the multiculturalism ministry, the government caucus and the B.C. Liberal Party.

The 17-page paper includes eight strategy components, including advice for so-called “quick wins” gained by correcting historical wrongs.

“I want to sincerely apologize to British Columbians,” said Clark’s statement.

“The document did not recognize there are lines that cannot be crossed in conducting this outreach and it is unacceptable.”

The statement goes on to say “some of the recommendations are absolutely inappropriate.”

Among the Liberal actions the document recommends is the May 2008 apology to the Indo-Canadian community for the Komagata Maru incident.

The incident dates back to May 1914 when a charter ship with 376 people from India arrived in Vancouver’s harbour. Canadian immigration officials refused to allow the people to disembark.

The ship stayed anchored in the harbour for two months before returning to Calcutta. Upon the ship’s return to India, a riot erupted and 20 people died.

The release of the document has also cast a pall over Liberal plans next month to apologize for the Chinese head tax.

In fact, the Chinese Canadian National Council is now asking the B.C. government to return its share of the tax back to the families from which it was once collected.

The council said about $8.5 million was transferred from the federal government to the B.C. government, and the present value is worth $800 million to $1 billion.

In 2005, the federal government signed a $2.5-million deal to compensate Chinese-Canadians for the head tax applied to Chinese immigrants between 1885-1923, and in 2006 Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology and compensation for the tax.

The document also includes several references to tailoring government and Liberal news to the ethnic media, ensuring there is proper translation.

Use of taxpayer resources for political purposes is forbidden.

“I’ve been in this House almost 20 years,” said New Democrat MLA Mike Farnworth said in question period following the apology. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a government as humbled or humiliated in this fashion.”

NDP House Leader John Horgan said the Liberals’ plan to have the premier’s deputy minister investigate to see if any government resources were inappropriately used falls short. Horgan said only an outsider can do a proper review.

The strategy document dated Jan. 10, 2012, titled Multicultural Strategy Action, was sent by Kim Haakstad, Clark’s deputy chief of staff, to the personal email addresses of eight people, including Pamela Martin, who works for the premier’s office; Brian Bonney, a former government multiculturalism communications director; and former Liberal caucus official Jeff Melland.

The documents state the plan’s strategic objective is to “make sure government caucus and the party are all working toward the same goal and in a co-ordinated and effective manner.”

The leaked strategy reveals plans to outflank the NDP in its approach to handling the ethnic media, with the objective to “match and then exceed the B.C. NDP’s ethnic media efforts in a place of importance equal to that of so-called mainstream media.