NEWS

B.C. Liberals repay $70,000 in misspent government funds

03/14/2013 11:19 EDT | Updated 05/14/2013 05:12 EDT
B.C. Premier Christy Clark says her government will adopt all of the recommendations from a probe that found a number of serious breaches of the government's code of conduct, including having her party repay $70,000 in misspent public funds.

Just before noon, Clark's deputy minister, John Dyble, released his internal investigation into the ethnic strategy document and those involved in its creation.

It found numerous other breaches of the government code of conduct by a number of political staffers and other government employees, including several deemed to be serious breaches.

The nearly 100-page report concluded that as much as $70,000 of government resources were inappropriately used by government workers to create the ethnic outreach document and to work on partisan activities for the B.C. Liberal Party.

But it placed the majority of the blame on Christy Clark's deputy chief of staff, Kim Haakstad, and former government communications director Brian Bonney, both of whom have since quit.

The report concluded as much as half of Bonney's time was spent on party or partisan activities while he was being paid by taxpayers.

As for the actual ethnic outreach document itself, the report found the plan was first developed in December 2011 at a meeting at the B.C. legislature organized by Kim Haakstad.

Others, including the premier's outreach director, Pamela Martin, attended this meeting along with a B.C. Liberal Party official.

The document was then drafted on government computers by two political staffers, Mike Lee and Dave Ritchie. Lee, the former executive assistant to John Yap, resigned on Thursday without severance.

The report found no evidence that the premier had any knowledge or involvement with the plan, or that her two former multiculturalism ministers, Harry Bloy or John Yap, did either.

Liberals to repay staffer's salary

Shortly after the report was released, Clark announced that the B.C. Liberal Party had already cut a cheque for $70,000 to repay part of Bonney's salary.

She called the report fair and promised the government would be adopting all of the recommendations.

"We need to do things right, and to make sure they are done right," said Clark.

Clark also said that of the three government staffers identified in the report as having made serious breaches of public policy, one is no longer with the government and two have resigned without severance.

She could not name the staffers because of confidentiality rules, but pointed out that both Haakstad and Bonney have since resigned.

Clark also said Yap would not be returning to cabinet because of the report.

After Clark's announcement, Yap said he stepped down because he made a mistake advising his staff about some of the contracts involved.

"I made a mistake here and I'm owning up to it," said the MLA for Richmond-Steveston.

A separate report into B.C. Liberal caucus involvement by B.C. Liberal caucus chair Gordon Hogg is also expected to be released this afternoon.

Premier has already apologized

Clark has already apologized several times to the province's ethnic communities for the document.

The outreach plan, which was leaked to the NDP, laid out the Liberal's pre-election strategy for "quick wins" in ethnic communities. It suggested government staffers co-ordinate their activities with the Liberal party to help them woo voters in key ethnic communities.

Before the report was released NDP house leader John Horgan said Wednesday he wasn't convinced it would provide all the answers.

"We certainly know the premier's office had a very active role using back channels to communicate with government officials and with contractors and with members of the Liberal party in Vancouver. What we don't know is if Mr. Dyble did any investigation on that side of the fence."

Horgan pointed out there are a number of areas where Dyble couldn't investigate.

"We have the Liberal caucus, where he has no authority. We have the B.C. Liberal Party involved, where he has no authority."

On Thursday afternoon, NDP Leader Adrian Dix said the findings in Dyble's report were disappointing for taxpayers.

"It's very disconcerting to see the specific statements made by the government in its initial response that no public money was used and no information was shared, was so dramatically contradicted," Dix said.

"And this was a plan, not a document, a plan the government implemented over time and it's very unfortunate."

The ethnic outreach scandal has already led to a near revolt by a number of Liberal MLAs, the resignations of former Multiculturalism Minister John Yap and the premier's former deputy chief of staff, Kim Haakstad.

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