BRIAN KIERAN: Clark faces scorn of avenging angel

Martyn Brown has emerged from political purgatory to help us better relish the undoing of Premier Christy Clark.

Martyn Brown — who served for many years as chief of staff to former premier Gordon Campbell — has emerged from political purgatory to help us better relish the undoing of Premier Christy Clark.

This month’s Liberal ethnic outreach scandal has transformed the once dour Campbell henchman into an avenging angel. The leaked strategy, Brown writes, constituted an “ethically egregious and nefarious plan that has gravely undermined public trust and confidence in the Clark government.”

“That fiasco, on top of many other incidents, errors and failings of leadership, has fundamentally compromised the Office of the Premier. However politically inept, naïve, ignorant and downright stupid it surely was — on so many levels — it has caused enormous harm to the government. It has also irreparably hurt the premier,” Brown rants.

Wow! That’s tough love from a political operative who used to demand unquestioning obedience from all who sought the help of the administration he propped up. When Brown was running the show in the West Wing, the bottom line was validation. If you wanted to interact successfully with the Campbell regime you had to validate the leader and his initiatives. To do anything less was to invite Brown’s considerable scorn.

I remember tasting his disdain more than a decade ago when I was a government relations consultant. One of my clients, a studiously nonpartisan association of business professionals, had issued a press release supportive of the government’s balanced budget agenda while also cautious about the increasing accumulated debt load. Brown took me aside at the Helijet terminal, angrily dismissed my client as insignificant and made it clear that the association’s constructive criticism was not welcome.

I was reminded of that dressing down when I read the Review of the Draft Multicultural Outreach Plan written by Deputy Minister John Dyble. I found most disturbing the finding by Dyble that there were anonymous complaints to government about the pressure tactics used by political staff.

“One caller was angry because after attending the meeting and providing personal information, she claimed to have subsequently received political materials at her home,” Dyble reported. “Another caller alleged that she was told that grants to her organization would be at risk if events were not scheduled for the minister. One of the callers also indicated that she was pressured not to report her concern to government.”

These findings reinforced my experience that this kind of heavy-handed partisan intimidation has been part of the Liberal playbook going back to the Campbell era. Indeed, it can be argued that the culture of validation that Brown promoted is at the root of the Liberals’ crisis this month.

I am heartened that the public appears to have put this scandal in context and has not let it divert attention from the really pressing issues ahead of us.

A current Ipsos Reid poll of 1,000 British Columbians finds that 44 per cent of us think this behaviour is typical of most political parties and governments. Another 25 per cent could care less.

As we approach the May election the top two issues that British Columbians would like to receive the greatest attention from our leaders are health care (24 per cent) and the economy (21 per cent).

“Ethics and accountability” — issues that have pre-occupied politicians and the media for weeks — rate just 10 per cent on the public’s scale of importance.

There’s a lesson there someplace. M

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