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Public Paid Clark's Way to Kelowna Campaign Launch

NDP calls trip an 'abuse of public resources', though premier later met with Alberta counterpart.

By Andrew MacLeod 15 Nov 2013 | TheTyee.ca

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

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Premier Christy Clark puts up a campaign sign, launching her byelection bid in Kelowna on June 13. Photo courtesy of Dave White, News1130.

On the day Christy Clark launched her successful byelection campaign in Westside-Kelowna, British Columbia taxpayers paid to fly her from Vancouver to the Okanagan city.

Clark called the byelection on June 12, then flew the next day to Kelowna to launch her campaign a day ahead of a meeting there with Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

A June 13 BC Liberal Party press release was clear Clark would spend the extra day in Kelowna campaigning. "Premier Christy Clark will begin her byelection campaign in Westside-Kelowna today," the party's release said. "Her schedule includes afternoon meetings with community leaders and then door-to-door campaigning."

The Kelowna Capital News reported that Clark met on June 13 with municipal councils for Kelowna and West Kelowna "to discuss what she described as local priorities." The paper quoted her naming several priorities, including fixing the Westside Road, and saying, "There are a number of local issues where the province can play a role... As premier, I should be able to deliver."

A June 13 picture that News 1130 radio's Dave White posted on Twitter shows Clark using a drill to erect a "Vote Christy Clark" campaign sign.

On June 14, Clark met with Redford to discuss economic growth and job creation, according to a B.C. government press release. Media were invited to photograph the pair walking and drinking coffee together on Kelowna's waterfront.

FOI docs show public paid

In June, The Tyee asked spokespeople for both the premier's office and the BC Liberal Party about payment for the trip, and in general how they would determine which expenses should be paid by the party and which by the government during the campaign, but received no answer.

This week, the response to a request The Tyee made under the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act showed the public paid for Clark's trip, as well as for the travel of four of her staff.

People travelling with Clark included her director of communications Ben Chin, her manager of operations Jennifer Chalmers and her executive assistant Jordan McPhee. The expense claims for nearly $3,000 included flights to Kelowna on June 13, returning on the June 14, hotel rooms and per diem amounts for meals for both days.

Clark's deputy minister for corporate policy, Neil Sweeney, flew roundtrip from Victoria to Kelowna on June 14 at a total cost of just over $500.

Asked this week about the public paying for Clark's trip, her press secretary Sam Oliphant said the meeting had previously been scheduled. "The Premier and staff will often go a day early for big meetings to prepare (especially when those meetings are in the morning as was the case here)," he said. "Kelowna was a good halfway location that fit with [Redford's] travel plans."

As for the campaigning, Oliphant said that while Clark was there to meet with Redford, "It's appropriate to also hold other events during the trip."

'Abuse of public resources,' says NDP

"This is a line as blurred as can be throughout Canadian political history," said Jordan Bateman, the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation. "It's bad, but it's only bad in the context of 'they all do it'... It's one of the distasteful things that happen in politics."

In recent months the Canadian Senate has been caught in a scandal that included revelations that Senator Mike Duffy had billed the public for expenses for trips he made for partisan events such as Conservative Party of Canada fundraisers.

"Politicians should exercise as much care as possible to ensure taxpayers aren't picking up the cost of politics," said Bateman. In Clark's case, at least there was a legitimate reason to be in Kelowna, he said. "She did meet Redford there."

The New Democratic Party's house leader John Horgan said it's true there are often situations where politicians combine their partisan work with their work on behalf of the public. As energy critic, he said, he has gone to meet with oil and gas industry officials in Fort St. John, then met with NDP members afterwards.

"You do it in the context of, 'I'm here anyway,'" he said.

Clark's trip to Kelowna to launch her byelection campaign was a different situation, he said. "This is an election campaign the premier was involved in," he said. "It strikes me that that was more of a photo-op for the campaign than for any significant business being done for the people of B.C."

The meeting with Redford resulted in a press release and media hit, but no significant advancement for either province, he said. "The reality is they went up to campaign and they went up on the government's dime," he said. "This is an abuse of public resources for partisan purposes. It's pretty hard to get around that."

The byelection became necessary when former MLA Ben Stewart resigned to make way for Clark who lost her Vancouver-Point Grey seat during the general election in May. Clark has since appointed Stewart as B.C.'s $150,000-a-year trade and investment commissioner to Asia, a job based in Beijing.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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