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Leaks Keep Damaging BC Liberals

So who's behind them? Signs point strongly to a former caucus employee.

By Andrew MacLeod 26 Mar 2013 | TheTyee.ca


Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's legislative bureau chief.

He is the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015), which is based on a series he wrote for The Tyee about economic inequality.

Before joining The Tyee, Andrew worked for Victoria's alternative weekly Monday Magazine, where he wrote hundreds of stories on many topics, including poverty, land use and the environment. His work has been referred to in the B.C. legislature, Canadian House of Commons and senate. He won a 2006 Association of Alternative Newsweeklies award for news writing and was a finalist for a 2007 Western Magazine Award for best article in B.C. and the Yukon.

Andrew lives with his family in Victoria and is learning to play the Scottish small pipes. You can reach him here or at (250) 885-7662.

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Jeff Melland: Wrote 'attack news releases' for Premier Clark. Is he now the leaker?

The British Columbia government has suffered a series of embarrassing leaks, the most damaging of which was the draft multicultural outreach strategy that forced the resignations of a cabinet minister and of Premier Christy Clark's deputy chief of staff.

While the leaks give the appearance of widespread disgruntlement within the BC Liberal ranks, it's much more likely that they can be traced back to one former caucus employee.

The most recent leak went, as several have, to Cassidy Olivier, a reporter with The Province newspaper. It included an email from Sam Oliphant, who was then a caucus researcher and is now a spokesperson for the BC Liberal Party, and a four-page research note on BC Conservative Party leader John Cummins.

In The Province's story Oliphant is quoted saying the pamphlet was a standard type of political work that he did while serving as political staff and that the NDP opposition certainly do the same kind of work. His party colleague and former principal secretary to premier Clark, Dimitri Pantazopoulos, was quoted questioning the leak's source: "I have no interest in vague stories based on unverified emails from sources whose motives are suspect."

Pantazopoulos' response gets at the problem with anonymous sources and why reporters are often reluctant to use them. Without knowing where a story or quote is coming from, it is impossible for a reader to assess whether it is being brought forward by someone acting altruistically as a whistle blower or by someone with less honourable motivations.

Access to documents

Oliphant's email message went to 11 people. They were a collection of people in the premier's office, assistants to ministers and caucus communications officers: Ken Dawson, Kiel Giddens, Samantha Howard, Jeff Melland, Carleen Kerr, Rebecca Scott, Trevor Halford, Spencer Sproule, R. J. Senko and Nina Chiarelli.

Only a few of the names are common to earlier leaks. In November email messages surfaced showing that political staff, paid for by taxpayers, had been consulting on a BC Liberal Party website attacking NDP leader Adrian Dix during their workday. The staff involved were "reproached."

Thomas Marshall, then a caucus communications officer and now working in premier Clark's office, sent the initial message to Katy Randall, Spencer Sproule, Blair Phelps, Sam Oliphant, Stephen Harris, Jeff Melland and Don Millar.

That makes just Melland, Sproule and Oliphant party to both messages.

And only one of them, Melland, was a recipient of the Jan. 10, 2012 email from former Clark deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad regarding the multicultural strategic outreach plan. The other recipients of that one -- which led to the resignations of Haakstad, advanced education minister John Yap and executive assistant Mike Lee -- included Pamela Martin, Barinder Bhullar, Fiera Lo, David Ritchie, Brian Bonney, Lorne Mayenourt and Primrose Carson.

Melland could not be reached for comment.

Heavily involved

While Melland would have had access to the leaked material, it's unclear why he would want to make it public. Former BC Liberal colleagues, who do assume he's the source of the leaks, remember him as an integral part of the team who left on amicable terms with everyone.

Melland worked for the BC Liberals in two stints. In his first, which began in 2008, he "Conceived, planned and implemented a highly successful Chinese-language media program," according to his Linked In page. During his second, which started in Nov. 2010, he revived that program and "Was relied upon heavily by Premier's Office to write attack news releases and op-eds."

In January 2012 Melland left to become the communications director for the Alberta Liberal caucus and Alberta Liberal Party, a job he held for five months. He remains in Alberta working as a political consultant available to "progressive candidates, parties and causes" in both the United States and Canada.

Sean Holman, a journalism professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said many of the issues raised by the recent leaks are similar to ones aired previously. "During my time as a journalist covering provincial politics in British Columbia, I certainly reported on incidences like this where lines were crossed," he said.

There are a couple key differences this time though, he said. For one thing, the transgressions have been more extensively documented. For another, the government is weak. "When a government is weak, its deficiencies become amplified," he said.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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