A personal indiscretion by a senior adviser has cost Premier Christy Clark a key appointee who was supposed to lead the reconstruction of her “free enterprise” coalition.
Just weeks before the B.C. Liberal Party is to open its doors to non-members for a convention that aims to rebuild its right-of-centre alliance, Ms. Clark was forced to dump Ken Boessenkool, a Conservative envoy she brought in as chief of staff in February.
Ms. Clark met with Mr. Boessenkool on Sunday armed with an internal investigation into “an incident of concern.” She said later that they agreed he would resign from the $200,000-a-year job, which he leaves without severance.
The timing is unfortunate for Ms. Clark’s government.
The Liberals face a tough election in May, 2013, and are trailing badly in the polls. Ms. Clark was left with a weakened front bench after several cabinet ministers who were important in the party’s conservative wing, including former finance minister Kevin Falcon, left politics because they were not willing to seek re-election on the Clark team. Most of Ms. Clark’s rivals in the leadership race, such as former education minister George Abbott, are leaving, along with ex-transportation minister Blair Lekstrom, and her office has seen a high turnover in political staff.
So the latest troubles of the B.C. Conservatives, which included two high-profile defections during the weekend, had the Liberals declaring that the tide was finally turning in their favour.
The announcement of Mr. Boessenkool’s resignation on Monday cut short that rare good news.
A former senior policy adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and high-priced Ottawa lobbyist, Mr. Boessenkool worked to bridge the gap between the governing B.C. Liberal Party and those who were fleeing to the B.C. Conservatives.
In a carefully worded resignation letter that did not reveal the heart of his misconduct, Mr. Boessenkool wrote that he had “acted inappropriately. I was wrong, regretted my behaviour very much and immediately and unconditionally apologized.”
The apology did not go far enough, however, and he has returned to Calgary to his family “who I have also let down.”
The Boessenkool family lives in a two-storey home with a three-car garage in a newer subdivision of Chestermere, a bedroom community east of Calgary.
Neighbours said they didn't know much about Mr. Boessenkool, his wife Tammy, or their four daughters, other than that Mr. Boessenkool wasn't at home very often.
One resident said he saw the Boessenkools leave earlier in the day on Monday. A newspaper sat untouched on the front porch and all the blinds were drawn.
At a news conference in Vancouver on Monday morning, Ms. Clark was left to put the best spin on her latest staff shuffle. She talked up the qualifications of Dan Doyle, her new chief of staff, a career civil servant who was chair of the B.C. Hydro board until Monday.
“He has about 36 years of unblemished public service to the people of British Columbia,” she said. “It’s good news that someone of this calibre is going to be joining our team in making sure we are remaining focused 100 per cent on creating jobs in British Columbia and strengthening our economy.”
She said that positive news is “tempered” by the circumstances around Mr. Boessenkool’s departure, which she refused to explain, citing privacy laws. She would say only that the incident, which occurred about two weeks ago, was not criminal in nature. It was investigated as an internal public service matter, pointing to involvement of government staff.
The appointment of Mr. Doyle signals yet another new direction for Ms. Clark’s office. He is the third chief of staff since she took power 18 months ago, but the first with a non-partisan background.
Mr. Boessenkool and his predecessor, Mike McDonald, were political tacticians. Mr. Doyle is expected to focus on governance, rather than running the Premier’s Office through the lens of the re-election challenges facing the party.
Eighteen months ago, Premier Christy Clark named a cabinet that, with just one exception, had rejected her as their preference for party leader. Her new office, by contrast, she filled with hand-picked loyalists and outsiders. Since then, a wave of the cabinet’s old guard has elected not to run, allowing her to refresh the benches. And as the Premier struggles to find traction in the public opinion polls, a more seasoned team has emerged in her office.
Mr. Falcon ran second to Ms. Clark for the B.C. Liberal leadership, and was rewarded with the powerful finance portfolio. But with a second child on the way, he is backing down on a commitment to seek re-election in 2013.
Mr. Abbott placed third in the leadership contest and landed a rare labour settlement with B.C.’s teachers before announcing his intention to retire.
A popular maverick, Mr. Lekstrom was best known as the only Liberal MLA to take a stand against the harmonized sales tax.
Mr. Hansen was the finance minister responsible for imposing the HST. Ms. Clark left him out of cabinet, and while he is not running again, he’ll have a role in the B.C. Liberals’ election campaign.
A former senior policy adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he became chief of staff in February. He was forced to resign on Sunday.
A long-time political associate of Ms. Clark who was her first chief of staff. He moved to principal secretary before jumping to the B.C. Liberal Party as campaign director.
The former television reporter was named press secretary only to be replaced by a former media handler for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Sara MacIntyre.
Mr. Doyle becomes the Premier’s third chief of staff, and unlike his predecessors, has no strong political connections. He is a career civil servant most recently serving as the chair of B.C. Hydro.
Mike de Jong
The former health minister ascended to the powerful finance portfolio in the most recent cabinet shuffle. He’s the last leadership rival of Ms. Clark’s remaining in cabinet.
Ms. McIntyre replaced Chris Olsen but with a new title: director of communications. She keeps the title but no longer regularly deals with media – a task handed to the new press secretary, Mike Morton.