This week, Christy Clark is desperately attempting to construct a Chinese wall between her premiership and all the senior staffers in her West Wing who were engaged in the Liberal party’s tawdry, clandestine strategy to use taxpayer-supported services to exploit the ethnic vote ahead of the May election.
What makes this challenge so daunting for her is the fact that the first sacrificial lamb in the “ethnogate” affair was Kim Haakstad, Clark’s deputy chief of staff and her soul sister.
Everyone in the legislature, including the NDP, knows that Christy and Kim have been joined at the hip for years. In fact, they are so tight that the Opposition benches — and a fair number of Liberals — are hard pressed to believe that Haakstad was stick handling this initiative from her perch inside the premier’s office without her mentor’s blessing.
In Question Period this week, the NDP made it abundantly obvious that they believe Clark had to have knowledge of the scheme, which she has acknowledged was “a very serious mistake.”
Let’s get a few things straight before we proceed: Courting the ethnic vote is common political practise both provincially and federally. Ethnic movers and shakers — particularly in B.C.’s Indo-Canadian community — would feel slighted if they weren’t courted.
Further, MLAs and MPs are not above using information gathered in the course of their public, taxpayer-supported duties for partisan purposes. How do you think the federal Conservatives have managed to build the party’s Constituency Information Management System into one of the most sophisticated and comprehensive get-out-the-vote databases in the nation?
That said, a plan to hire public servants to collect partisan ethnic data is way over the top. This is reinforced by the fact that Haakstad was using her cohorts’ personal, inaccessible email addresses to communicate progress on the file. Beyond that, using sensitive historical wrongs as a wedge to curry favour is just plain sleazy.
Paul Dhillon, the editor-in-chief of B.C.’s leading Indo-Canadian newspaper, Link, said it well: “All parties have their ethnic strategies, but they don’t spell them out so stupidly and condescendingly.
“It’s one thing to have such a strategy and another thing to keep that strategy well guarded and yet another thing to not mention that paid staff will help carry out the strategy. You get why we’re calling it dumb and dumber.”
After being hammered unrelentingly in Question Period for 20 minutes, Clark finally stated flatly: “I can say that I never saw the document and I was never part of the creation of the strategy, although I will say that it is certainly a legitimate role for government to coordinate outreach to multicultural communities . . . But in terms of the document itself, the ideas in it that are offensive and the language in it that is offensive, I never saw that information.”
But seeing the document and perchance condoning the mission are two different things. For the NDP, the issue is whether the premier’s deputy minister, John Dyble, who is also chief of the public service, is the proper person to be searching for the truth.
Meanwhile, despite their declarations of solidarity, some Liberal cabinet ministers and a good percentage of the caucus rank and file are leaving the impression they would love to throw Clark under the campaign bus.
They know the premiership and the party are delaminating. M