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B.C. Premier Christy Clark is followed by her communications director Ben Chin as she walks out to speak to reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting in Vancouver on Sunday, March 3. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Premier Christy Clark is followed by her communications director Ben Chin as she walks out to speak to reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting in Vancouver on Sunday, March 3. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

B.C. Liberals botch the politics of ethnic outreach Add to ...

The word “silos” has become an often-used pejorative in the past two decades or so. The latest mishap of Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia, in an ill-conceived “multicultural strategic outreach program,” is a reminder that a clear, silo-like division between a government and a political party is desirable and right.

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Kim Haakstad, Ms. Clark’s deputy chief of staff for operations, who has now resigned, oversaw and sent out a foolish, ethnic-politics strategy. (So far, no claim to authorship has been asserted.) It repeatedly advocates a “breakdown” of government silos in order to harvest information – such as contact databases – for the benefit of the Liberal Party of B.C.

Ms. Haakstad is said to have been Ms. Clark’s closest political confidant; her mistakes reflect on the Premier’s own judgment.

One of the inadvertently comical aspects of the memo is that it begins by saying that some ethnic communities feel “ignored between elections.” Its timing of its coming to the attention of the public – two months before the May election – makes it an implicit admission that the Liberals themselves had not paid enough attention to multicultural communities. Quite properly, the memo expresses worries about any appearance of “time-limited pandering.”

That impression is fortified by the document’s frequent use of the phrase “quick wins,” which suggests easy, short-term prospects of pleasing various ethnic communities. It does not help that these passages often go on to refer to historical wrongs, a term sometimes placed in quotation marks, as if to cast doubt on the seriousness of a community’s past sufferings.

The extent to which public money and resources were spent on this strategy may not have been great in its year-long life, but the damage to the governance of the province, if the memorandum had not come to light, could have been very grave.

There is nothing wrong with political parties seeking support in a whole range of communities. Indeed, major parties should be based on a broad coalition of interests. Notably, the federal Conservatives have matured and become more moderate, in part thanks to their cultivation of multicultural communities, whom their predecessor parties had sometimes neglected.

But the use of the civil service for such partisan purposes, if encouraged or permitted, would be corrupting.

 

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