Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg says findings of an internal investigation into a plan to boost the party’s popularity with ethnic communities “can’t come soon enough” for him.
Hogg, chair of the BC Liberal caucus, said Monday that the majority of members he has spoken to are “concerned and upset,” over allegations that non-partisan government staff resources were inappropriately redirected to help deliver ethnic votes to the party.
But Hogg said caucus members also recognize the importance of waiting for findings of the investigation currently being conducted by John Dyble, Premier Christy Clark’s deputy minister and head of the public service, before leaping to judgments.
John Yap – whom Clark had appointed minister responsible for multiculturalism and minister of advanced education, innovation and technology – has stepped aside from his cabinet posts for the duration of Dyble’s review. No reason was immediately given for the move, announced by Clark at Peace Arch News’ press deadline Monday afternoon.
Heading into an extended caucus meeting to deal with the fallout from the leaked plan – which has already led to the resignation of Clark’s long-time assistant, Kim Haakstad – caucus members remained united behind the premier.
“We don’t want to react emotionally,” Hogg said, prior to chairing the meeting. “We want to make sure we have the full information.”
Hogg noted his caution and concern is shared by his Surrey-White Rock riding association president.
The vice-president of the BC Liberals Surrey-Tynehead riding association, James Plett, resigned Friday over the controversy, later slamming the party on his blog for what he termed “a pattern of arrogance, deceit and downright unethical behaviour.”
Cause of the furor is a 2012 draft strategy memo – leaked to the NDP opposition – that discusses ways to improve the governing party’s popularity with immigrant communities, including recruiting new members and spokespeople to call and write to ethnic media outlets.
NDP critics have also focused on the memo’s references to using government staff to compile lists of people in ethnic communities for use by the BC Liberal party.
NDP house leader John Horgan said the involvement of senior premier’s office staff means Dyble is not sufficiently independent to do the review of the memo.
Hogg said he has also been hearing from many concerned constituents on the issue.
“They’re asking me how I feel and the answer is I’m very upset and disappointed with regard to the allegations, and eager to get more information about what actually happened,” he said, adding he has “full confidence and belief” in the process now underway.
Hogg said he was expecting “an open, full discussion by members of the caucus” at Monday’s meeting.
Going into the legislature Monday, Chilliwack MLA John Les said that, while he continues to support Clark’s leadership, he also expected a frank discussion behind closed doors on how the government should handle the controversy.
“You’re not going to move forward as a party if you can’t be honest with each other,” Les said.
Fallout from the document has brought closer scrutiny to a planned formal apology in the legislature for the ‘head tax’ on Chinese immigrants, imposed by Ottawa from 1885 to 1935.
The document described such apologies as “quick wins” before the May 14 provincial election. It cited the impact of a 2008 apology in the B.C. legislature for the Komagata Maru incident, in which a ship carrying Indian immigrants was turned away from Vancouver harbour in 1914.
BC Liberal MLA Kash Heed (Vancouver-Fraserview) voiced objections to the ‘head tax’ apology on the weekend, telling CKNW radio that it would be “hollow.”
In a terse statement issued Friday afternoon, Clark announced that she had accepted the resignation of Haakstad, her deputy chief of staff, who distributed the plan to party and government staff via their personal e-mail addresses.
Haakstad, and “outreach” staff from the premier’s office who received the memo – including Pamela Martin, the former TV anchor hired by Clark as her director of outreach, and Lorne Mayencourt, the former Vancouver MLA who serves as director of outreach for the B.C. Liberal caucus – are subject to the internal investigation, which was ordered by Clark Thursday.
The same day Clark issued an apology, which was read in the legislature by Deputy Premier Rich Coleman.
“The document did not recognize there are lines that cannot be crossed in conducting this outreach [to ethnic communities] and it is unacceptable,” her statement says. “The language in this draft document and some of the recommendations are absolutely inappropriate.”
– With files from Alex Browne