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BC government's media spin shop wanted welfare stats kept secret

VICTORIA – The British Columbia government office that manages media relations instructed Housing and Social Development ministry staff to suppress welfare caseload statistics until after the May 12 election.

“Can we please hold off posting these updates until after the election?” a public affairs bureau communications officer, Amanda Thambirajah, wrote in an April 21 e-mail to John Johnson, the employee who was to post the document on the ministry's website.

An earlier e-mail shows Johnson intended to post the document on April 30. “Please let me know if there are any concerns,” he asked.

Former New Democratic Party MLA and strategist David Schreck obtained the messages through a freedom of information request.

The NDP released the messages today. "These documents show that the highly politicized public affairs bureau canceled the routine release of these damaging welfare caseload numbers during the election,” leader Carole James said in a news release. “It's clear the Campbell government put its political interests ahead of the public's right to information about B.C.'s economy and fiscal situation.”

The Tyee reported on May 11 that the caseload statistics, normally posted at the end of each month, had been delayed. At that time calls to three different public affairs bureau spokespeople were not returned.

Nor was anyone available for immediate response to questions today.

Other messages included in the package Schreck obtained suggest the public affairs bureau had placed a general ban on posting information to the internet during the pre-election period.

According to the government's website, “The Public Affairs Bureau ensures that information about government programs and services is accessible to British Columbians.”

When the government released the welfare statistics following the election they showed the number of cases in the expected-to-work category had grown 50 percent from a year earlier with the largest gains among two-parent families (71 percent), single men (61.3 percent) and couples (53 percent).

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

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