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Document urges BC Liberal aides to avoid answers, spin the media

B.C. Liberal government ministerial aides are under strict orders when the B.C. Legislature is in session and rule No. 1 is to not provide answers to the opposition in Question Period and spin the media, a newly released confidential government document shows.

"It's Question Period, not Answer Period," reads an internal government document titled House Review: A Day In The Life dated January 2007.

"Answer the best you can each time, every time. But if you can't, ATTACK!! NDP record, evidence of internal conflict, etc ...." the document instructs ministerial assistants to B.C. cabinet ministers.

House Review also details how cabinet aides and other government staff are expected to influence reporters to keep them from writing about controversial issues raised in Question Period by the opposition.

A section titled: "10 A.M. - The News Blitz" says: "This is our chance to get to the media while they are still thinking about their lead - give them something else to write on so they aren't pressured to write on QP [Question Period]."

There are: "Several options for 10 a.m. blitz: 1) Legislation; 2) News Releases; 3) Comment on issues already on media radar."

House Review is part of 8,000 pages of confidential government documents ordered released by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett Wednesday in response to an NDP court application.

The information was obtained through Freedom Of Information requests by defence counsel acting for David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi, three former government aides facing corruption charges related to the $1-billion sale of B.C. Rail.

Bennett also ordered that the documents be made available to media and the public for review but not photocopying at the court's Criminal Registry.

The document states in a "Question Period" section that: "Ministers are judged on the three Cs: Competence - we know the file better than the critics; Confidence - we are sure of our position; Control - we are clear in our communication."

The "Question Period" section also outlines how cabinet ministers are backed up by staff in several locations so they can answer opposition inquiries quickly.

"Speed Kills - one person in 223 [Room 223 in the Legislature, presumably], one in the office, so that info can get into the chamber," the unsigned document reads.

The media spin doctoring continues following Question Period, according to another section titled: "3 p.m. The Hallway" - regarding media questioning of ministers and opposition in the hallway outside the Legislature Chamber.

"The halls are Round 2 - if QP goes well, it's the NDP's 2nd Chance. If QP goes bad it's our chance for clean-up," House Review says. "The halls will NEVER be a good substitution for a good QP performance."

The newly released documents also include detailed briefing notes for Campbell prior to interviews with columnists Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun and Michael Smyth of the Province newspapers and for talk radio show interviews.

House Review outlines in detail what happens in the hallway after QP: “Jason, Dale, Caucus and PAB work the halls – follow their lead, stay in contact if you are the flavour of the day. Find out what the NDP is saying and distributing. Assess best mitigation techniques, including whether to keep your Minister in the House or bring them out on cue.”

“Dale” would appear to be Dale Steeves, Premier Gordon Campbell’s Communications Director. “Jason” may be Jason Keenan, Campbell’s former Legislative Support Officer. PAB is the Public Affairs Bureau, the government’s communications arm.

“We can use the halls to mitigate their attacks,” House Review continues. “1) Distribute paper that refutes their claims….2) Provide balancing data to supplement their stories – usually contrasting information; 3) Send the minister back out to take another round of interviews with media.”

House Review says the government’s day starts with an 8:15 a.m. House Meeting: “Smaller meeting with PO [Premier’s Office], Leader’s Office, Caucus and Whip’s Office – may introduce PAB into discussions. Final decisions on QP angles. Final decision on the 10 a.m. News Blitz.”

Bill Tieleman writes a column for 24 hours and appears regularly on The Hook.

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