The NDP is raising questions about Burnaby MLA Harry Bloy's involvement in a leaked strategy to target the ethnic vote, a plan that has left the Liberals mired in controversy as the election approaches.
"I don't know how deeply (Bloy) was involved at the time, but he was the minister at that time," said Burnaby-Edmonds MLA Raj Chouhan. As for targeting the ethnic vote, Chouhan said all political parties do that.
"That's fine, we have no problem with that, but when you're using government time and staff, that's not acceptable," he said. "The government rules are very clear - that no staff, no resources be used for political partisan purposes. ... What we are objecting to is tax dollars being used to prop up the B.C. Liberal election machinery."
The 17-page "multicultural strategic outreach plan," dated January 2012, outlined a strategy to capture the "ethnic vote" by targeting quick wins and identifying and correcting historical wrongs. The apology for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident was cited, where hundreds of Indian passengers aboard the ship were turned away from Vancouver because of their race.
The premier's deputy chief of staff, Kim Haakstad, sent the email to government staffers, some in the premier's office, all using personal emails addresses, which are not subject to freedom of information requests.
While the document is more than a year old, Chouhan said it was leaked to the NDP "recently," but he couldn't say how long, exactly, the NDP sat on it before they presented it in the legislature on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
According to the plan's synopsis, "anecdotal reports suggest some ethnic communities, particularly Chinese, feel that they are ignored by government between elections," and the plan's objective is to "re-enage with ethnic voters and media."
The plan was broken into eight key components, but overall responsibility was designated to the minister of state for multiculturalism, a post Bloy held in January 2012. One of the email recipients was David Ritchie, who was working as Bloy's assistant at the time. Bloy did not return calls from the NOW, but he wasn't the only local connection. Burnaby's Brian Bonney, who handled communications for the ministry of state for multiculturalism at the time, was designated as one of the leaders for the plan's coordinated media strategy. Burnaby North MLA Richard Lee was also mentioned under a list of bullet points on government's weaknesses on "the multicultural file." "Caucus has only a few ethnic MLAs, and only one (Richard Lee) who is fluent in a target language other than English," the document reads.
On Thursday, Clark issued an apology in the house via Housing Minister Rich Coleman, and she asked for a review to determine whether government resources were misused. Employment standards for B.C. public service workers forbid political activity on the job. Haakstad resigned late on Friday, and at a vice-president of a Liberal riding association has left in upset. (Three other association presidents have left, but the Liberal Party is saying their departures were for different reasons.) Clark emerged from a cabinet meeting Sunday and apologized - this time in person and in front of media - about the document's language.
On Monday, John Yap, the current minister of state for multiculturalism, stepped aside over the scandal.
Rana Dhatt, executive director of the Burnaby Multicultural Society said it was "totally wrong" to target the ethnic vote.
"It seems that all parties do it. These people just happened to get caught," he said. "It's unfortunate that society's past wrongs, such as the Komagata Maru and the Chinese Head tax, would be used as a tool to win ethnic votes. The real feedback from individuals is that: Was that apology really genuine or is it a tool to win ethnic votes? I don't think politicians should underestimate the ethnic voters. They are far more educated in the political process than to be isolated and uniquely targeted as an ethnic individual. I'm sure ethnic individuals want to be treated as the rest of the society in general. ... They are no different from any other citizens of Burnaby of B.C."