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NDP critic grills Libs about ethnic outreach probe

Is the BC Liberal government cooperating with investigators probing alleged violations of the Criminal Code and Elections Act?

That's a question NDP Justice critic Leonard Krog wanted Attorney General Suzanne Anton to answer during a budget estimates hearing on May 27.

Special prosecutor David Butcher was appointed last August after then-NDP leader Adrian Dix delivered new evidence to the RCMP about the Liberals' Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plan, also known as "Quick Wins." Before the provincial election, the Liberals were forced to admit public employees violated the public service code of conduct by doing party work on government time in an effort to gain popularity among ethnic voters.

The Criminal Justice Branch revealed the RCMP and Butcher probes on Sept. 26, 2013. Clark's spokesman Ben Chin said at the time: "The government of British Columbia respects this process and will cooperate fully."

Krog asked Anton whether either of the investigations are still ongoing.

"There has been a special prosecutor appointed. To the best of our knowledge, he is still working. But the matter is in the hands of the police and the special prosecutor, and I'm not in a position to comment any further on that," Anton said.

Replied Krog: "Well, perhaps the minister can comment on whether or not, in light of the premier's comments, the government is, in fact, fully cooperating with the investigation."

Said Anton: "This would be within the knowledge of the police and the special prosecutor. I have no... They are in possession of that information, if there is information to be in possession of, not myself."

Pressed further, she said: "There's no reason to believe that any cooperation which has been sought would not be occurring, but as I say, these are matters within the knowledge of the police and the special prosecutor."

The only revealing answer to Krog's grilling was on whether Anton was directed verbally or in writing by the premier to cooperate with the investigation.

"The answer is no, but I don't think I or anyone in my ministry needs direction to cooperate with an investigation," Anton said.

She refused to name anyone in government who has been contacted by investigators and twice asked whether Krog's questioning was relevant for the budget estimates hearing. Krog unsuccessfully asked twice whether the RCMP or Butcher have requested documents, including email.

"If the Attorney General doesn't wish to answer the questions as asked, that is certainly her privilege in this place, and I can't compel her to do so," Krog said. "But one would have thought that when the very integrity of the last election and this government is in question here, she would wish to ensure that any information that would satisfy the public interest in this matter would, in fact, be responded to appropriately."

Little information has been disclosed about the investigations. In March, the Burnaby Now reported that RCMP detectives questioned a Coquitlam member of the Liberals about renewing his party membership in 2011 with MLA Harry Bloy and the subsequent receipt of a PIN number for use in voting in the leadership election.

Bloy was the only member of caucus to support Clark's leadership campaign. In September 2011, Clark appointed him minister of state for multiculturalism. Bloy did not run in the 2013 election.

The BC Liberals returned $70,000 to the public treasury on March 14, 2013, the same day an internal report by Clark's deputy minister John Dyble found Bloy aide Brian Bonney violated the code of conduct.

Veteran political reporter Bob Mackin is a regular contributor to The Tyee.

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