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NDP requests election advertising investigation

A British Columbia deputy minister discussed using the former Crown corporation Tourism B.C. to break the pre-election advertising blackout, according to a complaint the New Democratic Party submitted to Chief Electoral Officer Harry Neufeld today.

“You're one of the key guys that we are going to tap on the shoulder in terms of coming up with a media, messaging, advertising strategy . . . just before the blackout period and during the blackout period,” former Tourism, Culture and the Arts deputy minister Bruce Okabe said in a voice message to Tourism B.C.'s communications director Ray LeBlond, according to an NDP transcript of the call.

Neither Okabe nor LeBlond returned calls by posting time.

The plan involved a public affairs bureau director and the ministry's “senior leadership team”, the transcript said. “The Minister's asked us to come up with some blue sky ideas, in terms of how we might get the B.C. message out . . . just before the blackout period, and maybe even during the blackout period, to see if we can figure out a way to do it.”

Tourism B.C. was “obviously going to be one of the major investment vehicles to do that,” it said.

Government policy is to cease government advertising four months ahead of a provincial election. It is unclear from the material the NDP released whether Tourism B.C. actually advertised during the blackout period.

The NDP's Spencer Herbert, the critic for the tourism ministry, said he could not reveal where he got the recording, but that it was obtained legally. The NDP's been told it was recorded in July, 2008, he said, and could be referring to either the October, 2008, by-elections or the May, 2009, general election.

In his letter to Neufeld, Herbert said the recording raises questions about whether the government broke sections of the Elections Act covering financial reporting and third party advertising.

“They chose a route and now we'll wait,” said Tourism, Culture and the Arts minister Kevin Krueger. “We expect everybody, Crown corporations, the civil service, to abide by the rules . . . I believe that's what happened.”

In August, 2009, the government announced it was bringing Tourism B.C. under direct control of the tourism ministry.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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