For two weeks, Premier Christy Clark was aware of allegations of misconduct by her top political appointee involving a female subordinate. But Ms. Clark refused to explain Tuesday why her chief of staff Ken Boessenkool remained on the job until media inquiries about the incident led to his dismissal.
For the second day in a row, Ms. Clark appeared at a news conference to explain her handling of the incident, which resulted in the departure of her star Tory recruit just eight months after he was brought in to help her troubled administration.
The Premier demanded Mr. Boessenkool’s resignation on Sunday after an internal investigation involving the provincial Public Service Agency. In a letter released Monday, the former lobbyist and policy adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that he had immediately owned up to his inappropriate behaviour. “I was wrong, regretted my behaviour very much and immediately and unconditionally apologized.”
Ms. Clark left with Mr. Boessenkool for a trade mission to China the day after the incident and spoke with him about it soon after. “I had a number of conversations with Ken as the details came to light,” she said Tuesday. She would not provide details, however, saying: “I am bound to respect the privacy of the individuals involved in this.”
The government’s political appointees answer to the chief of staff, but Ms. Clark rebuffed questions about why he was not suspended while the investigation was conducted. “After the investigation was done and I was presented with all the facts, I had a decision to make and I made that decision.”
Ms. Clark told reporters that she followed the process set out by the public service agency, which means it would have handled interviews with the two parties and witnesses, and offered advice on the Premier’s options. Although he is a political appointee who can be removed at the direction of the Premier, Mr. Boessenkool still would have legal rights as an employee and Ms. Clark said she could not act until that process was complete.
“I think an employer has a duty to gather the facts before letting someone go,” she said. “Everything that was done, was done absolutely to the letter.”
But the public was not informed of the firing until days after media inquiries were made about Mr. Boessenkool’s conduct – which allowed her government to enjoy a relatively good weekend on the political front, with the troubles of the rival BC Conservatives in the spotlight.
That secrecy only makes matters worse in the public’s eye, said marketing expert Lindsay Meredith, from Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business.
“From a damage-control standpoint, the one thing that will get you in a lot of trouble is stonewalling,” he said. The BC Liberal government, in its third term of office, has been damaged by a number of instances, most recently with the surprise adoption of the harmonized sales tax, that have created suspicion that it has tried to hide bad news from the public. “It is one more nail in their coffin. It tends to feed the consumer perception that these guys are not coming clean with us,” Prof. Meredith said. “That kind of cumulative perception will kill a corporate brand, and it can kill a political brand.”
The BC Liberals have been trying to repair their brand since 2010, when the botched rollout of the HSTharmonized sales tax forced the resignation of then-premier Gordon Campbell. Mr. Boessenkool was brought into Ms. Clark’s office to help address the party’s continued problems, notably the loss of conservative supporters from their coalition party.
Ms. Clark said Tuesday she still needs to reach out to “every free enterpriser in the province” in advance of the May 2013, election – a task made more difficult without her Tory insider.