The provincial government used finance ministry staff to send thank you letters to B.C. Liberal Party donors, according to documents released as part of the BC Rail court case and raised in the legislature by the NDP during today's question period.
“Is using a minister's office to raise funds for the B.C. Liberal Party standard operating procedure for this government?” asked NDP Attorney General critic Leonard Krog.
Attorney General Wally Oppal refused to answer questions about the matter since they came out as part of a matter that is still before the courts. (Responding to a later question on an unrelated matter, he said, “We usually follow the law on this side of the house.”)
Oppal didn't say much more in the hallway. “I'm not going to comment on anything that's related to the trial,” he said. “I'm not going to be drawn into this. I don't know what the issue is. I know a number of documents have been before the court.”
The letters, to be sent by then finance minister Gary Collins, were to thank people who donated to the Liberals to attend a Feb. 23, 2003 Canucks game along with Collins, as well as those who did not attend the game but donated anyway.
But instead of being handled by Collins' riding association, as would be normal for correspondence with donors, details were looked after by Yvette Heuser, who government telephone directories from 2002 and 2004 show was Collins' administrative co-ordinator.
That makes her officially an employee of the government, not the Liberal Party.
“It was a good opportunity to discuss issues of importance to the business community and receive personal feedback on the policies that this government has introduced,” said a letter prepared for Collins and addressed to David Cobb, chief operating officer for Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the Canucks.
“I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate your support as we work towards fulfilling our election commitments to restore sound fiscal management and revitalize the economy,” the letter said.
Documents filed with Elections BC show the Liberals sold 30 tickets to the game for $500 each and netted $15,000 on the fundraiser.
“This is about taxpayer funded employees of the government of British Columbia assisting on office hours Liberal party fundraising,” said Krog, speaking with reporters. “This is a serious public issue. The taxpayers of British Columbia pay public servants to deliver public services. They don't pay them to raise money for the Liberal party.”
Krog said he was disappointed with the government's response. “I would have expected the Attorney General today, or the minister of finance, or the deputy premier or the government house leader to stand up and say to the people of British Columbia, 'We were wrong, I'm sorry, it will never happen again. The rules are the rules for everybody. They apply to Liberals as well as the citizens of British Columbia,'” he said. “I didn't hear that today.”
Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.