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B.C.'s Clark calls emergency meeting as ethnic vote scandal grows

B.C. Premier Christy Clark appears at the International LNG Conference in Vancouver on Feb. 25, 2013.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Embattled B.C. Premier Christy Clark has called an emergency cabinet meeting for Sunday afternoon, in response to a growing scandal over an ethnic outreach plan launched from her office.

The meeting was called after members of her caucus went on the offensive over the premier's failure to meet with them about the conflict - one that makes the already difficult election campaign ahead even more challenging for the B.C. Liberal party.

On Friday evening Ms. Clark's deputy chief of staff was forced to resign for her role in the "multicutural outreach" plan, which was penned more than a year ago but not made public until last week.

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Kim Haakstad's departure came only after several prominent government MLAs publicly challenged the Premier to take action over the politicization of the civil service that was spelled out in the strategy document Ms. Haakstad delivered to senior government and party operatives.

In a statement, the Premier said Ms. Haakstad quit, without severance, "after much consideration of her roles and responsibilities."

The pressure to hold the Premier's staff accountable has been growing since a raucous caucus meeting in the capital on Thursday. An apology was then issued in the Premier's name over leaked documents that tie top officials in her office to a plan to harness government resources for building her party's outreach to ethnic communities.

Concern about the unravelling scandal has led to an internal debate about the state of the Liberal coalition that Ms. Clark has led for two years. A source said dozens of senior B.C. Liberal activists were set to meet this weekend to discuss whether Ms. Clark has the authority to lead her party into the election on May 14. It is not clear that the departure of Ms. Haakstad – a long-time confidant of the Premier – would derails those plans.

Deputy Premier Rich Coleman on Thursday said he expected answers about the embarrassing multicultural outreach strategy within 24 hours – and that could lead to firings. Instead, on Friday afternoon the government issued the terms of reference for an internal investigation with no deadline. It was late Friday before the resignation was announced.

Former B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon said a string of resignations by party riding presidents in recent weeks reflects a growing concern that his government has lost its moral compass.

"It's an obvious reaction to what many of us are very disturbed about, the culture that allows the kind of politicization of the civil service," he said in an interview earlier Friday. "And I think to a person, we want to see it investigated and for there to be accountability." Mr. Falcon is not seeking re-election but has, until now, not questioned Ms. Clark's conduct of her office.

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The framework for an investigation also did not satisfy Moira Stilwell, Minister of Social Development. "It's not fast enough or far enough and we all know what needs to be done," she said before Ms. Haakstad's resignation. "There is a clear sign of wrongdoing that requires action," she said.

The tactics proposed in the 17-page multicultural outreach strategy paper, which Ms. Clark's written statement described as "absolutely inappropriate," were circulated by Ms. Haakstad on her private e-mail. But those named in the document also include the Premier's director of outreach, her executive director for caucus and other key appointees both inside government and in the Liberal Party.

It was released by the opposition NDP on Wednesday. John Dyble, the deputy minister to the Premier, will conduct the probe that will look into whether any government resources were inappropriately used to help prop up the B.C. Liberal election machinery. A written report will be released.

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More


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