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b.c. election 2017

While mainstreeting in a food store, BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark met Linda Higgins, and the Sunshine Coast resident said she will not vote for her.Ian Bailey/The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail

The BC Liberals say they "stand corrected" after falsely accusing a retired civil servant of being an NDP plant after she encountered Leader Christy Clark in a grocery store and told her she'd never vote for her.

However, the party did not issue an apology to Linda Higgins, which some have been calling for after last week's encounter. The incident, captured by TV news crews inside a store in North Vancouver, sparked its own hashtag on social media, #IamLinda, which critics used to vent their own reasons for never supporting Ms. Clark.

On Tuesday, after days of controversy, the Liberals issued a statement that said: "We're happy to stand corrected," though the party did not elaborate, despite a request to do so.

The statement cited Ms. Clark's previous statement that "we are fortunate to live in a democracy" where respectful disagreement is possible, though it did not include any apology to Ms. Higgins or express any contrition.

Ms. Higgins told The Globe and Mail that she was in North Vancouver last Thursday having had lunch with her husband. When Ms. Clark's leadership tour arrived for some mainstreeting, Ms. Higgins decided she wanted to talk to the Liberal leader about her concerns about education policy, housing affordability and other issues.

The face-to-face chat was brief.

"I would never vote for you because of what …" Ms. Higgins said.

Ms. Clark cut her off. "You don't have to – that's why we live in a democracy." She then walked away.

Ms. Higgins has denied she was there at the behest of the NDP.

As the hashtag took off, campaign director Laura Miller suggested on Twitter that Ms. Higgins was sent by the NDP to disrupt Ms. Clark's campaign.

Several party officials shared Ms. Miller's post, while Sam Oliphant, a former press secretary to Ms. Clark who now works on the campaign, also used a tweet to question Ms. Higgins' allegiances.

The party initially refused to say anything about the encounter or whether it stood by the claims about Ms. Higgins, a 61-year-old former social-worker assistant.

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, Ms. Clark declined to answer questions about whether the party had any evidence to justify claims by senior Liberal officials or why the party would not apologize.

"You'll have to speak to the people that tweeted that out," Ms. Clark said. "I don't have the answer to that. What I am spending my time talking about while I am out here is what I stand for and what I believe in and our plan for the province."

Ms. Higgins told The Globe that an apology would have little value because it would not be sincere, but rather forced by the pressure that the Liberals have come under over the situation.

In a statement, NDP Leader John Horgan said Ms. Clark has even made up some details about her encounter with Ms. Higgins that are disproved by video of the meeting. After the encounter, Ms. Clark told reporters Ms. Higgins said she didn't vote for her previously, had never voted Liberal and would not vote for again. The suggestion is disputed by video of the encounter.

Mr. Horgan said the discrepancy is typical of Ms. Clark's approach to such disputes.

"When Christy Clark gets into trouble, she just makes stuff up," Mr. Horgan said in the statement. "I think she owes Linda an apology."

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said, on Tuesday, the lack of an apology to Ms. Higgins by either the Liberals or their leader has sustained the controversy.

Mr. Weaver said there was nothing wrong with Ms. Higgins' initial comment nor Ms. Clark's response, which he described as "fair, although it was done a bit flippantly."

However, he said the Liberals went too far thereafter.

"When they accused this woman of being a spy, they crossed the line," he said.

It's not the first time Ms. Clark and the BC Liberals have been under fire for making false allegations. In February, Ms. Clark apologized after accusing the NDP of hacking the BC Liberal Party website. Her allegation came after a party document was sent to a journalist.

John Horgan says he feels 'passionately about issues' after the B.C. NDP leader’s temperament was questioned during Wednesday’s debate. Liberal Leader Christy Clark says a premier must be 'calm' on issues like softwood lumber.

The Canadian Press

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