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BC Liberals used taxpayer resources to bash opposition: NDP

The British Columbia government is using taxpayer resources for partisan BC Liberal political purposes, said NDP House Leader John Horgan.

During question period in the legislature Horgan asked about a BC Jobs Plan page with a B.C. government logo that appeared on page 13 in the April newsletter of the BC Food Processors Association newsletter.

"The plan clearly differentiates our government's approach to agriculture from the opposition," the page said. "While we embrace forward-thinking, innovative approaches to growing the industry, the NDP are either focused on the rear-view mirror with yesterday's ideas or are advocating for policies that are already in place."

It accuses the NDP of being "embarrassingly unaware" that B.C. products are served in schools and hospitals and criticizes the party for wanting to bring back the BuyBC program that "was an effective program a generation ago."

While the page does not name a government official, the text is the same as an opinion article distributed under Agriculture Minister Don McRae's byline on March 30, 2012, and still available on the government website.

McRae was not immediately available for comment. In the legislature, Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell told Horgan he would take the question on notice and respond later.

"It's clearly a partisan attack," said Horgan. "It mentions the NDP and NDP policy three times. The objective of government advertising or government advertorials should be to inform the public of government activity, not to malign the opposition."

That the newsletter came out in the Fraser Valley during the byelection in Chilliwack-Hope could be a violation of the Elections Act, Horgan said. He said he wrote a letter to Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer asking him to look into the matter.

"If Don McRae or the BC Liberal Party have something to say about NDP policy they have more than enough resources at their disposal to not use taxpayer money to do it," said Horgan.

After the byelections in Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody-Coquitlam Premier Christy Clark's office released a statement through the government news release system, later posted on the government's website and since removed, that made partisan points about the results.

"It's never been clearer that only a unified free enterprise coalition can defeat the NDP," it quoted Clark saying. "That's why we are focused on strengthening our coalition so that in the next general election voters will have a clear choice between the free enterprise coalition and the NDP."

"There's a pattern of behaviour where government resources, public wealth, is being distributed to individuals that are supporters of the BC Liberal Party that are employed by the government to malign the opposition," said Horgan. "That's partisan activity and it's not supposed to happen."

Update, 5 p.m.: Agriculture minister Don McRae said the article was sent to all media in response to points NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham raised on her blog. "It is exactly what it is, an op-ed, opinion-editorial, it's my opinion," he said. "Should I have been a little less partisan? Yeah, I think I'd do a better job next time."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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