If Premier Christy Clark loses this spring's provincial election, she may look back on this week with bitter regret. It may have been the point when the public said enough – enough of the deceit, enough of the partisan game playing, enough of the cynical politics that voters abhor and leave them shaking their heads in disgust.
On Friday, Independent MLA Vicki Huntington disclosed that she was the person who alerted a journalist to the fact that private donor information was easily available on Ms. Clark's Liberal party website. By simply clicking on a link, any member of the public could access information the party obviously had not intended to have exposed.
When a columnist for The Province newspaper called the Liberals for comment, the link was immediately disabled. But instead of just fessing up to an internal goof, the Liberals instead commenced a bizarre and ultimately misguided week-long campaign to convince the public that their site had been hacked.
And then Ms. Clark, as is her nature, decided to torque the message even further – calculating, one supposes, that there were political points to be scored.
Without a shred of proof, she claimed the NDP had hacked into Liberal Party computers, a criminal act, she said, that was an attempt to subvert the democratic process.
But, almost as quickly as the words had left her mouth, the tale began to unravel. Where was the Premier's evidence, reporters demanded to know. Ms. Clark stuttered and stammered her way through a response, ultimately suggesting it wasn't a big deal, that it was "inside baseball" that voters didn't care about.
Perhaps sensing the leader needed help, the Liberal Party then suggested it had linked the alleged hack to an IP address that belonged to a computer in the legislature.
As the party tried desperately to spin its way out of the sham it was trying to foist on the public, the hole it was digging just kept getting deeper. One of the Premier's top advisers called me to say the Liberals knew it wasn't a legislative worker with party connections who was responsible for the hack because they had "scoured" their computers. When I asked how this was legal, I was told "employers" were allowed to search computers of their "employees" – except people working in government are not employees of the Liberal Party.
When I made this fact public, I was quickly phoned by the same official in Ms. Clark's office and was told he had misspoken; the party had not "scoured" any computers. And yet, he said, they were still confident that no Liberals were responsible for the hack. And sadly it went on.
With the story continuing to collapse, Ms. Clark emerged on Thursday to admit she may have jumped to conclusions when she said the NDP was responsible for hacking Liberal computers. Of course, she had to add that she had made the same deduction as everyone else – which wasn't true at all. No one was making the claim she had. Asked if she was prepared to offer the apology NDP Leader John Horgan was demanding, Ms. Clark refused.
According to the Premier's hyper-partisan political playbook, you never apologize to your enemy – not if you can avoid it. But on this matter, she found herself increasingly boxed in. Then Ms. Huntington stepped forward to lay bare what a complete farce the hacking whopper propagated by Ms. Clark and her party had been all along. She expressed outrage that the Premier would falsely accuse political opponents of attempting to undermine democracy when her own government was involved in scandals relating to the untenable deletion of e-mails and using government employees for partisan political purposes. When her own government refused to change campaign finance rules that gave the rich an outsized influence in the outcome of elections, to the electoral favour of the Liberals.
It is hard to think of a moment in her tenure as Premier when Ms. Clark looked worse.
Heeding calls from her staff to apologize and put the story behind her, the Premier did precisely that on the Friday afternoon of a long weekend. (When you take out the "garbage" in politics). She told reporters in Victoria that she had left a voice mail for Mr. Horgan expressing regret over what happened.
It must have galled her to have to make that call, to have to admit she overplayed her hand and got caught doing it. The often rash, glib populist had been chastened – for a day anyway.