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BC Liberals planned to use gov't resources to win ethnic votes

The British Columbia New Democratic Party today released a leaked BC Liberal plan to use government resources to win over ethnic voters.

"It's taking the public service and politicizing them," said John Horgan, the NDP house leader. "What we object to, and I think British Columbians would object to, is their tax dollars being used to prop up the BC Liberal election machinery."

The 17-page document is a "Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plan" aimed at co-ordinating party, caucus and government resources to "re-engage with ethnic voters and media." It includes plans to work on a media strategy, build a database of contacts and find "quick wins" such as apologizing for past injustices.

Kim Haakstad, Premier Christy Clark's deputy chief of staff, sent the plan by email on Jan. 25, 2012, to people in the premier's office, government caucus and BC Liberal party. Among the eight recipients were Pamela Martin, Brian Bonney, Lorne Mayencourt and Fiera Lo. 

"We see Liberal operatives who have been directing public servants to send lists, names, people, organizations to the BC Liberal party," said Horgan. "That's clearly across the line. It's not the caucus talking to the party, it's government employees talking to the party."

Horgan noted there are plans for a March 14 apology to the families of people who paid the head tax when they came from China. He said he believes an apology is needed, but it shouldn't be motivated by the Liberals need for short-term political gain.

"If the BC Liberals felt that way, they could have done that 11 years ago," he said. "They could have done it 11 months ago. Now we're 11 weeks from an election and they're setting it up to try and curry political favour rather than demonstrate the importance of that injustice to the people in the Chinese community and how all of us should be responsible for that today."

Responding during Question Period, the minister responsible for multiculturalism, John Yap, stressed the importance of multiculturalism and the government's work to support ethnic communities.

"This was an old planning document that never hit my desk," he later told reporters. "I'm led to understand that it was prepared for discussion purposes to ensure staff are aware of what the expectations are for clarity. As you know, it can be easy to blur the lines."

The government has been working on a head tax apology for over a year, he said, noting that Liberal MLAs Richard T. Lee and Ida Chong are descended from people who paid the tax.

"We are doing a lot of multicultural outreach because multicultural communities are very important in British Columbia," he said. "One in four British Columbians is an immigrant."

One component of the plan cites a "strategic objective" to "Make sure Government, Caucus, and the Party are all working towards the same goal and in a coordinated and effective manner."

Another is a "Coordinated Media Strategy" that will help "redefine our approach to ethnic media from being an 'add-on' to being viewed as part of the mainstream media. This ensures that opportunities and requests are promptly acted on and not ignored."

There's a need to find quality translators and to be more responsive to the needs of non-English media, it said. The plan also notes that the NDP has at times more effectively communicated with ethnic media, and singles out Gabriel Yiu, the NDP candidate for Vancouver-Fraserview, as a valuable communicator.

"Party spokespersons who speak target languages are urgently needed. Using the Chinese-Canadian community as an example, we suffer from a lack of a Gabriel-Yiu type figure, who can be deployed rapidly and speak knowledgeably on the issues of the day," it reads.

It identifies as a weakness the fact that the Liberal caucus only has a few ethnic MLAs, "and only one (Richard Lee) who is fluent in a target language other than English. Dave Hayer apparently speaks some Punjabi."

The plan said "political centre-right is a natural fit for many immigrant/ethnic communities" but warned that "Failing to ensure a sustainable outreach effort could be seen as time-limited pandering… If not done correctly, we will appear opportunist."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief. Robyn Smith reports for The Tyee.

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