Clark: 'Serious mistakes were made'
Investigation uncovers misconduct by public officials and the use of private emails to cover it up
BY CRAIG MCINNES, VANCOUVER SUN MARCH 15, 2013
An investigation into a proposed multicultural outreach plan aimed at bolstering Liberal support has found serious misconduct by public officials, the misuse of government funds and the deliberate use of private emails to hide what was going on.
A team of four deputy ministers headed by John Dyble, deputy minister to the premier, was called in after the New Democrats released a leaked memo showing that civil servants appeared to be mixing public and party work and using government resources for Liberal party purposes.
The Dyble report released Thursday confirmed all of those allegations. It found two officials, Kim Haakstad, former deputy chief of staff to Premier Christy Clark, and Brian Bonney, a former communications director, engaged in serious misconduct and that several others, including former broadcaster Pamela Martin, the premier's director of outreach, engaged in misconduct to a lesser extent.
The memo, dated Jan. 10, 2012, outlined a multicultural outreach plan under which officials in the premier's office, the Multiculturalism Ministry and the Liberal caucus would collaborate to use taxpayer-funded resources to help the Liberal party attract voters in ethnic communities.
Martin was among several government, Liberal caucus and Liberal party officials who attended a meeting called by Haakstad that led to the development of the plan and the memo obtained by the NDP.
The investigation found that Bonney, former communications director for multiculturalism, spent about half his time on political business and used three private email accounts to cover his tracks.
Former multiculturalism minister John Yap told the investigation that private email accounts were used so records couldn't be obtained through Freedom of Information requests, a practice long suspected but never before confirmed by a minister.
Yap resigned after the memo was leaked, while denying he had seen it or that he was involved in any of the activities discussed.
The investigation found he was involved, however.
At one point when staff from his office was inappropriately helping individuals apply for government contracts as outreach workers, an aide, Mike Lee, emailed Yap and said:
"I have send (sic) them reminder emails to double check their application and ultimately check for any trace of I and Brian's involvement. It is absolutely critical that we do not leave any evidence in us helping them through this application"
Yap replied: "I appreciate each of your efforts with the 3 RFQs (request for qualifications). Great job. Let's now hope for the best."
Lee has now resigned. Clark said she accepts all of the recommendations in the report and "we will take action immediately."
She told reporters that the Liberal party has issued a $70,000 cheque as a good-faith payment to make up for any party work done on government time. If the comptroller general subsequently finds the actual amount is greater, that amount will be paid in full, she said.
"I believe that when mistakes are made, and serious mistakes were made, the right thing to do for leaders is step up and take responsibility, get to the bottom of it and fix it."
She said Yap will not be returning to cabinet "at this time."
In question period Thursday, the last before the May 14 election, New Democrats continued to challenge Clark to hold an expanded inquiry into the memo. They noted that Dyble was only looking at the activities of public servants, not Liberal caucus employees or ministers.
"The B.C. Liberal Party was not investigated. The B.C. Liberal caucus remains silent," said NDP deputy leader John Horgan.
"The premier wants to demonstrate that she's somehow taking leadership on this by a junior staff leaving office."
Gordon Hogg, the chair of the Liberal caucus, issued a statement Thursday saying that a separate internal review found that caucus staff had a "brief, supporting role" in the preparation of the memo that was appropriate to their position. He declined to release the review, citing privacy concerns.
The memo included an insulting reference to "quick wins" that could be achieved by the Liberals by apologizing for historic injustices, including the Chinese head tax. The deputies were not asked to comment on the content of the memo, but found themselves compelled to characterize those comments as "offensive and inflammatory."
After the release of the memo, Haakstad resigned. Bonney left government earlier this year, after being paid about $124,000 for 16 months work.
Haakstad, who distributed the memo, has not talked publicly about her role.
At the time the memo on the multicultural outreach plan was leaked, it appeared that scheme was never fully implemented.
Before it was shelved, however, a request for qualifications was issued for outreach workers. The investigation found some of those applicants, who were subsequently accepted, were coached in the preparation of their applications by staff in Yap's office.
The contract for that work was never signed by government, but the outreach workers started work and were paid a total of $6,800 without proper authorization.
"I'm sorry that I was not fully apprised and I made a mistake here and I'm owning up to it," Yap said Thursday. "I believed it was within appropriate bounds to assist individuals who were interested in a contract without directly influencing civil servants who were in charge of making those decisions and now I've learned the hard way that that was not appropriate."
Clark at first played down the memo at a meeting with The Sun editorial board on the day after it was released. But she later took it more seriously, appointing Dyble and issuing a statement calling it wrong and apologizing for it. She said later she should have taken it more seriously when she first heard about it.