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RCMP probing B.C. Liberals’ multicultural outreach prior to election

Premier Christy Clark during a campaign stop in Kelowna on July 9, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The RCMP are investigating whether the B.C. Liberal government's secret multicultural outreach strategy broke the law.

In August, three months after losing the provincial election, NDP opposition Leader Adrian Dix approached the RCMP with a confidential complaint about potential Election Act violations by the governing Liberals.

On Thursday, the B.C. criminal justice branch revealed that a special prosecutor is now assisting police with an investigation into the so-called quick wins scandal that had embroiled Premier Christy Clark's government in controversy in the weeks before the May 14 election.

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The multicultural outreach strategy began in a meeting called by the Premier's then-deputy chief of staff, Kim Haakstad, who pulled together government employees, partisan caucus staff and a party official to discuss a plan that blurred the lines between government and party work. Ms. Clark has said she was unaware of those actions.

The scandal did not dent the B.C. Liberals' popularity on election day – the Liberals had gained ground after the votes were counted.

In February, the NDP opposition revealed the contents of the draft multicultural outreach plan that showed the Liberals seeking to use government resources to political advantage. In one memorable example, a planned government apology for the Chinese head tax was characterized by Liberal insiders as a "quick win" with ethnic voters.

The revelations led to an internal probe by the Premier's deputy minister, John Dyble. Mr. Dyble's report, based on more than 10,000 pages of evidence, concluded that several government officials breached the public service code of conduct, and that government resources were misused for political purposes. Ms. Clark's party turned over a cheque for $70,000 as compensation, and a close political aide to the Premier was forced to quit.

A statement from the criminal justice branch, issued late Thursday afternoon, announced David Butcher was appointed special prosecutor on Aug. 29 "as the investigation could include members of government and/or government employees." The appointment, and the RCMP investigation, were not made public until now at the request of the police "to safeguard the integrity of the investigation in its early stages," according to the statement.

Mr. Dix remained silent about his role until after the special prosecutor was announced. In an interview, he said, "Obviously there was serious information that we felt required an RCMP review." Asked why he waited until August to go to the police, Mr. Dix said "there were new revelations that came forth after the election." He wouldn't comment on specifics.

Ben Chin, the Premier's director of communications, said Ms. Clark would not comment on the investigation. "Any citizen, including Mr. Dix, is free to file a complaint with the authorities," he said in a written statement. "It is inappropriate to comment during any ongoing investigation. The government of British Columbia respects this process, and will co-operate fully."

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Political scientist Hamish Telford said Thursday's disclosure could have been disastrous for the Liberals had it been released during the spring campaign that saw the party win a fourth term in government. Any indication of an investigation or charges "could have had an impact – it could have affected or derailed Christy Clark's campaign," said the academic at the University of the Fraser Valley.

In the wake of the election, the NDP has been embroiled in soul-searching about its unexpected loss, with Mr. Dix saying last week he would step down next year. Campaign manager Brian Topp, in a leaked document dissecting the NDP's campaign, said the party's failure to capitalize on the quick wins scandal was a critical mistake.

However, the Liberals will not face immediate questions on the issue in the legislature because they have cancelled the fall sitting.

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About the Authors
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

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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