03/01/2013 05:13 EST | Updated 05/01/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Ethnic Vote Plan Inquiry: Liberals Release Terms Of Reference


VICTORIA - Premier Christy Clark accepted the resignation Friday of one of her closest advisers as the political fall-out over a leaked strategy aimed at wooing ethnic voters continued to rock the Liberal government.

Kim Haakstad, who was Clark's deputy chief of staff and has worked with the premier for years, resigned as the controversy over the ethnic vote courting strategy tore at caucus unity.

"Kim reached her decision after much consideration of her roles and responsibilities," Clark said in a three-sentence statement late Friday afternoon.

"Consistent with circumstances of resignations, no severance payment applies."

At least one Liberal MLA slammed his own party publicly over the leaked memo, which appeared to condone using public money to help the Liberals spread their ethnic message in time for the May 14 election.

Dave Hayer, an Indo-Canadian who has been a Liberal MLA since 2001, condemned the plan Friday, adding his voice to a furor unleashed earlier in the week when the Opposition NDP leaked the 17-page strategy document dated January 2012 in the legislature.

“This proposed outreach plan was insulting to the intended targeted communities and was, when I found out about it, insulting to me and to all other MLAs who believe in doing things properly, fairly and within the rules and laws of the legislature,” Hayer said.

The document outlines a plan involving the premier's office, the multiculturalism ministry, the government caucus and the B.C. Liberal party.

The 17-page paper includes eight strategy components, including advice for so-called "quick wins" gained by correcting historical wrongs.

It also includes several references to tailoring government and Liberal news to the ethnic media, ensuring there is proper translation.

Use of taxpayer resources for political purposes is forbidden.

“In all my 12 years as an MLA I have always reached out to all communities, regardless of ethnic background, because that is the right thing to do," Hayer said.

"I believe in doing the right thing, regardless of whether it will, or will not, ‘win the vote’ of any particular group."

In an interview before Haakstad resigned, Hayer said it the proposed policy — which the Liberals have referred to as a draft — was the wrong thing to do.

"Nobody in their right mind would be telling anybody to do anything like this. I can tell you, all the MLAs I talked to think this is wrong. We think whoever did this should be held responsible."

As the fallout continued Friday, the Liberals were forced to explain that two of three riding association presidents who resigned recently quit their jobs well before the strategy plan was leaked.

One person resigned last week and the other on Feb. 7, but a Liberal spokesman speaking on background said it's unclear why the third riding president quit.

Peter Fassbender, the Liberal candidate in the Surrey-Fleetwood riding, said his riding president has resigned, but that he had been aware for weeks she would be leaving for personal reasons.

"I think it's unfortunate when anything like this happens," Fassbender said in an interview, adding he doesn't think the issue will affect the election campaign.

"The premier has apologized, which I give her a lot of respect for, and she's taking what I think are the appropriate steps because it is a very unfortunate situation."

Also Friday afternoon, James Plett, the vice-president of the party's Surrey-Tynehead riding association, announced on Twitter he was resigning. He said he then emailed his decision to the board and informed his MLA, Hayer.

The 25-year-old who said he has served in the position for about three years called the plan to woo ethnic voters with public resources "abhorrent on so many levels."

The B.C. government has promised to get to the bottom of whether public resources were used for political purposes, but the answers weren't coming as fast as the deputy premier suggested.

Deputy Premier Rich Coleman read an apology from Clark in the legislature Thursday, saying the leaked strategy document appeared to cross the line.

Coleman said then he should know within 24 hours what went wrong and how, but on Friday, the premier's office issued only the terms of reference for the review.

They include a pledge to conduct interviews and review all documents related to the leaked strategy paper.

Those involved in the investigation include Coleman, the deputy ministers of finance and open government and the head of the B.C. Public Service Agency.

Coleman's staff said he would be unavailable for comment on Friday, but the minister tweeted he had been given an update on the investigation.

"For the record, been given an early summary in 24 hrs, the terms of reference are out, a number of interviews needed. Plan progressing," said Coleman's tweet.

He included no details of what the summary said, but said in a further tweet: "I am satisfied with the first steps to review what occurred here and fully support (Christy Clark)."

Coleman also said he didn't want to compromise the review by saying anything further.

NDP House Leader John Horgan said he's concerned the Liberal government's planned review of its proposal to woo ethnic voters doesn't go far enough because it doesn't include the Liberal party or the party caucus.

Horgan said he expects the review will take several weeks, and referred to Coleman's statement about answers being provided in 24 hours as political bravado.

"That was typical Mr. Coleman hyperbole," Horgan said. "When Mr. Coleman said he would be done in 24 hours, what I expected was some sort of sacrificial lamb being held up on the alter on contrition."

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