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B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting in Vancouver on March 3, 2013. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting in Vancouver on March 3, 2013. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

LEGISLATURE

Clark touts budget ‘milestone’ despite lingering scandal Add to ...

Premier Christy Clark says her caucus has turned the page on a tough week, but a caucus chair is conducting his own review to find out what role B.C. Liberal MLAs may have played in the ethnic outreach scandal that has dominated provincial politics.

Ms. Clark’s government survived a crucial budget vote on Tuesday, with a lean majority backed up by two Independent MLAs.

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“Today was a milestone,” Ms. Clark told reporters. “In the vote, what you saw, despite a difficult couple of days, is that our caucus, our team, has decided they want to stay focused.”

Under normal circumstances, the vote would simply be a formality to allow the legislature to proceed with the detailed budget debate. But given the frustration that has been publicly expressed by members of her caucus over the multicultural outreach plan, it looked more like a confidence vote. And Ms. Clark appeared relieved to have managed to keep her team in their seats for the “must-show” event.

A document released last week by the NDP opposition links key officials in the Premier’s office with a plan to break down the walls between the B.C. Liberals and the government in the pursuit of winning ethnic voters over to Ms. Clark’s party.

The Premier has sought to get past the contentious multicultural outreach plan by asking her deputy minister, John Dyble, to investigate, allowing her to sidestep questions while that probe is under way.

Ms. Clark said she has not yet been interviewed by her deputy, but she intends to tell him she knew nothing of the plan. “I never saw the memo, I wasn’t involved in its preparation,” she told reporters.

The leaked document triggered an uproar within the B.C. Liberal ranks. It is a serious setback for a party that is already facing an uphill battle to hang on to power in the May 14 election.

The long list of senior government appointees named in the 15-month-old document, which was distributed on private e-mail by the Premier’s deputy chief of staff, includes Liberal party officials and several caucus staff. Among them are the outreach director for the caucus at the time, Lorne Mayencourt, and the caucus executive director, Primrose Carson.

Liberal caucus chairman Gordon Hogg said Tuesday his review seeks to determine whether any government MLAs or caucus staff are implicated – a signal that the caucus is not prepared to leave the matter in the hands of the Premier’s deputy. The role of caucus staff, named in the documents, appears to be a gap in the terms of reference provided to Mr. Dyble. This second review, which Mr. Hogg promised to make public, will focus on that.

“I’m not sure what access [Mr. Dyble] has to information with respect to caucus,” Mr. Hogg said in an interview Tuesday. “We want to be as transparent as we can with respect to that, and I think that as caucus chair I owe it to my colleagues and the public at large to ensure I’m doing my due diligence with respect to some allegations that have come against our staff.”

Mr. Dyble’s task is to conduct interviews and review all documents and information to determine whether any public resources were wrongly used to the party’s advantage, but the terms of reference make no mention of the caucus or the party.

The Liberals are bracing for a bill to compensate taxpayers. Right now, government insiders put the price tag at a mere $7,000 – the cost of terminating several contractors who were apparently hired under the plan.

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

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