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Time running out for beleaguered B.C. Liberals

Premier Christy Clark speaks to media from her office following a Caucus meeting on March 4, 2013.

Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

With an election two months away, the caucus chair for the embattled B.C. Liberals says the party will have little choice but to quickly pivot to a challenging fight for a fourth term despite a scandal over ethnic outreach that has forced out a minister and cost the Premier her deputy chief of staff.

The B.C. legislature wrapped up a quick session this week with a last day of sitting before the May 14 vote. That sets Premier Christy Clark and opposition B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix out on an unofficial campaign stretch before buses and planes are deployed for more official campaigning in mid-April.

Gordon Hogg, the caucus chair, didn't play down the burdens the Liberals are facing due to the ethics scandal, itemized in a damaging probe that confirmed government officials breached the public service code of conduct for political ends. Ms. Clark announced the party has put up $70,000 to repay the treasury for public money wrongly spent on partisan activities. John Yap remains out as multiculturalism minister.

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"All of us have seen some damage come out of this draft strategy, draft multicultural strategic outreach plan, and all of us have to carry and deal with that, and we have talked about the ways we're going to have to do that," said Mr. Hogg, MLA for Surrey-White Rock, who conducted his own review into the scandal but ruled out releasing it due to privacy concerns.

Mr. Hogg said the Liberals have little time to gear up for a fight against the NDP, which is ahead in every published poll. "It's a tighter time frame, a more concentrated time frame," he said.

B.C. Liberal campaign director Mike McDonald said the last two weeks have forced the Liberals off their agenda. But he said Friday that he doubted the ethnic outreach scandal would hurt the Liberals, noting the party has diverse candidates with ethnic backgrounds, include many from the Chinese-Canadian and South-Asian communities. "The issue that came up is important and it's important that it was dealt with by the Premier, but I think the economy is going to be the issue that's the vote driver in multicultural communities," he said.

There isn't a major poll in sight that suggests the Liberals have an edge on the NDP, but like other Liberals including Ms. Clark, Mr. Hogg suggests the party can turn things around in the four-week campaign, especially when leaders are in the spotlight. "To a large degree, people make decisions based upon the leader, so we need Christy to be positive and to be focused and she has a reputation as being a great campaigner. This is going to be one of those times that she's going to have to be a great campaigner."

Ms. Clark kept a low profile on Friday. The Premier, who has been forthright in talking about her faith to some groups, attended a prayer breakfast held behind closed doors, but did not take questions from reporters upon her departure. Ahead of formal campaigning, she will be touring the province to talk up the economic issues the party sees as the best shot for some traction over the New Democrats.

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About the Authors
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

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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