Premier Christy Clark says her government doesn't pay hush money to keep potential critics quiet, but the Opposition New Democrats say the Liberals have gone strangely silent on potentially damaging new details in 10,000 pages made public as part of a review of the Liberals' vote-getting scandal.
"Absolutely not," Clark said Tuesday when asked if her government offers critics jobs or money to buy their silence.
The NDP is targeting an e-mail included in the documents posted on B.C.'s open government website as part of the investigation last spring about Liberal efforts to gain so-called "quick wins" in ethnic communities.
The e-mail in question involves communications from former Liberal aide Brian Bonney, who was found to be at the heart of scandal, suggesting the disgruntled former Liberal worker be offered money to do non-public work in the period leading up to last May's provincial election.
John Dyble, the premier's deputy minister, conducted a review last March which found the work lines between the B.C. government and the provincial Liberal Party were clearly crossed in a government effort to win ethnic votes. The review caused Clark's popularity ratings to plunge and forced the resignation of her multiculturalism minister, John Yap, and of two Liberal insiders, Kim Haakstad and Mike Lee.
Bonney left government for a job in the private sector.
"What he said in that e-mail was totally inappropriate," said Clark. "That's why I ordered the review. There was no evidence that it [the e-mail] was ever acted upon, otherwise you would have seen different recommendations, I'm sure, from the Dyble committee."
But inside the legislature, the Liberals did not confirm that the former government liaison worker, identified by NDP Leader Adrian Dix as Sepideh Sarrafpour, was interviewed as part of the Dyble review even though e-mails written by Bonney wanted to set up meetings with Sarrafpour to "explain how doing anything would damage the premier and the party."
NDP government spending critic Shane Simpson called on the Liberals to initiate a broader review to focus on the questions raised by the e-mails.
"Will the deputy premier order an independent investigation of this hush-money scandal?" said Simpson.
Citizens Services' Minister Andrew Wilkinson said the government is not about to second-guess the findings of the four-person committee that included Dyble and three other senior civil servants.
Dix said outside the legislature that it's apparent the Dyble committee did not interview Sarrafpour during their review. He said her name is not on the report's witness list.
"What is it that is so damaging?" said Dix. "That's really the question. Perhaps Premier Clark would like to answer that question."
Sarrafpour, who describes herself as a peace activist and a recent Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal recipient, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Correspondence that appears in the documents between Sarrafpour and Bonney in the pages before the job-offer e-mail show the liason worker, who helped organize events in ethnic communities, was extremely frustrated about communication with Yap's office.
She sent an e-mail Aug. 30 outlining her concerns, but like many of the e-mails, it is heavily redacted, making it difficult to understand the specifics of her complaint. However, the tone is clear:
"I think we get the invite and never call them until two months after when we make a final decision. But that whole time, they are wondering if we even got the invitation and they keep calling me; keep asking about the greetings," Sarrafpour wrote.
"Just to let you know, I won't be able to contact anyone of them anymore. . . They all told me: Respect and support should be from both sides."
Bonney then used his personal e-mail account to write to Sarah Welch, Yap's ministerial assistant, forwarding an e-mail from Sept. 10, which is blanked out from the documents as being personal information.
"Since she sent this e-mail on Sept 10, I have sent e-mails back and forth with her about it, text messages, and I have now talked to her twice on the phone. She is resolute to do this."
What "this" is appears to be included in the blanked-out e-mail.
The e-mail in which Bonney appears to lay out a strategy to mollify Sarrafpour, including the potential job offer, was sent Sept. 18.