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B.C. Liberals run out of time to pass Chinese head-tax apology

B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to media following the release of a report by Deputy Premier John Dyble in Victoria, B.C., on March 14, 2013. Plans by Clark's Liberal government for an all-party apology in British Columbia's legislature over the Chinese head tax fell have fallen apart following the ethnic-vote scandal.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

Time has run out on a B.C. government plan to apologize for the Chinese head tax.

The embattled B.C. Liberal government was advancing a proposed head-tax apology in the last days of legislature sitting this month ahead of an election campaign. It was hoping the B.C. NDP would approve the text so the motion could be endorsed across the House.

But NDP MLA Jenny Kwan says the draft apology from Liberal MLA Richard Lee, whose grandfather paid the head tax, came too late to be seriously considered and that Mr. Lee failed to answer her questions about how the document was developed so she could brief her fellow caucus members on what was being proposed. She said Mr. Lee's answers were incomplete.

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"If the government was sincere in wanting to bring this forward, and get this job done, the government should have and could have gotten this done. The government should have started way earlier," said Ms. Kwan, who noted her party is generally supportive of such apologies.

The Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA said the Liberals could even have invited the NDP to be part of the consultation process.

"They waited until the last three days of the legislature in the midst of their own ethnic-outreach scandal to say, 'Can you sign on?' without any of the detailed information that is required for people to consider this."

She said Mr. Lee sent her the apology text by e-mail on March 11 – three days before the legislature adjourned – and that the pair followed up in a series of e-mail exchanges about the matter. She said Mr. Lee acknowledged, on the last day of the sitting of the legislature, that it was probably too late to proceed.

In an interview, Mr. Lee, the parliamentary secretary for Asia-Pacific, acknowledged that the process ran out of time for now, but that it was tough to get various stakeholders to sign off on the proposed apology, which has been an interest of his for several years.

He said he has been discussing a draft with community stakeholders since May, 2012. "I believe this is the right thing to do," he said.

"I hope it will come back in the next B.C. parliament after the election," said the Burnaby-North MLA.

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Asked about the possibility of the apology being taken up by a non-Liberal government, he said: "Anyone who can do it, I support it."

Mr. Lee said he was not aware of the "quick wins" strategy of formal apologies to ethnic communities outlined in a leaked Liberal government document – a game plan that precipitated a crisis for the Liberals that cost the deputy chief of staff to the premier and her multiculturalism minister their jobs.

"The first time I saw it was in the media," said Mr. Lee.

The text of the proposed apology, provided by Mr. Lee, says the House "recognizes that the Chinese community and many separated families suffered inequality and discrimination" between 1885 and 1923 when the head tax was imposed, as well as 1923 to 1947 when the Chinese Immigration Act banned individuals from immigrating.

It calls for the further inclusion in school curriculum of the history of Chinese Canadians and other ethnic minorities who "contributed in building our province" as well as the creation of a Community Roundtable to establish a multicultural foundation to document ethnic community contributions, protect and preserve heritage artifacts and advise government on enacting policies to advance multiculturalism.

"The House further supports the reconciliation with descendants of the head-tax payers as our province should not be seen as benefited from racial discrimination."

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In a March 10 interview with CTV's Question Period, Premier Christy Clark said she might have to postpone the apology to avoid having it be tainted as a political measure. "The apology needs to be seen outside of politics," she said.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More


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