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B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks with the media in Ottawa on Dec. 9, 2016.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has apologized to NDP Leader John Horgan for alleging, falsely, that the opposition party hacked the Liberal website, a suggestion that prompted Mr. Horgan to threaten legal action and led to a feisty conflict that ran through much of the week.

Mr. Horgan appeared uninterested in listening to the Premier's apology, which she left on a voicemail message he had yet to even open by Friday afternoon.

The back and forth between the leaders of the two parties was a rhetorical prelude to what is expected to be a tough spring election campaign when the Liberals will be seeking a fifth consecutive term. In recent weeks, Ms. Clark and Mr. Horgan have fenced over such issues as political fundraising and the conflict is expected to continue next week as the legislature resumes sitting.

Gary Mason: Has Premier Christy Clark had her enough's enough scandal?

However, Ms. Clark said on Friday that she went too far when she alleged, without offering any evidence, that the NDP had accessed the B.C. Liberal website. She made the allegation after a columnist said he discovered sensitive information on the party's site in an area accessible to the public.

"I have no problem saying sorry, because I made a mistake and I shouldn't have jumped to those conclusions as quickly as I did," Ms. Clark told a conference call with reporters after days of refusing to apologize and suggesting voters did not care about the issue.

"When you make a mistake like that, you should apologize, which is what I did today," she said. "I think when John returns my calls and we get a chance to talk directly about it, I think that will be the end of it for me."

However, Mr. Horgan told reporters after a Friday afternoon speech in Vancouver that after days of "bizarreness," he was in no rush to listen to the Premier's voicemail or have any conversation to hear her apology.

"This is just the weirdest thing in the world. She just created a problem for herself. She has been creating a bigger problem for herself as each day went by, and now it's incumbent on me to get into the madness with her?" Mr. Horgan said.

"Now she wants me to stop my life and accept a phone call from her? Well, I've got other things to do." He said he would take a call from Ms. Clark "when I have got time."

Mr. Horgan seized on the situation as an opportunity to depict Ms. Clark as detached from the priorities of B.C. voters, who will be going to the polls on May. 9.

The dispute began when Emile Scheffel, the communications director for the B.C. Liberals, initially raised the issue of unauthorized access in a series of tweets last Monday, as he addressed how a columnist for The Vancouver Province newspaper obtained a document containing party supporters' personal information.

In a subsequent interview with The Province and The Vancouver Sun, streamed live on Facebook, Ms. Clark went further, alleging the NDP was responsible for the hack. She was talking about NDP suggestions that the next provincial election will be a tough one when she said: "We saw them trying to hack into our website the other day."

Ms. Clark conceded she was wrong after Independent MLA Vicki Huntington revealed Friday that her staff found unprotected, personal information about voters posted on the Liberal Party website. Ms. Huntington said she shared the information with a reporter and was shocked when the Liberals then blocked access to the formerly unprotected section of its website and Ms. Clark claimed someone with malicious intent, working from within the legislature, had hacked the site.

The Premier said it is incumbent on the Liberal Party to make sure information is properly secured. "I know they will be making vigorous efforts to make sure it is in the future."

Mr. Scheffel said in a statement issued Friday that the party has conducted an "extensive internal review" of the unauthorized retrieval of personal information, and also notified the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C.

He referred to unspecified "previous attempts" to break into the back end of the party website and expressed regret that the platform data did not meet the party's "full security standard."


Timeline of events

An apology from B.C.'s Premier on Friday ended a week of political turmoil that began with accusations that someone – the suspect eventually became the NDP – hacked into the Liberal Party's website and stole a sensitive document. Here's what we know about what happened:

  • Early in the week of Jan. 30: Vicki Huntington, an Independent in the province’s legislature, later confirms that this is when her office discovered a spreadsheet containing personal information in an unsecured area of the BC Liberal Party’s website, Ms. Huntington says she passed along the document to Province newspaper columnist Mike Smyth to flag the Liberals’ lax security.
  • Feb. 4: According to Liberal Party spokesman Emile Scheffel, there were repeated attempts throughout the day to access a password-protected area of the party’s website.
  • Feb. 6: In a series of tweets, Mr. Scheffel alleges unnamed “opponents” hacked into the party’s website and then passed along stolen information to the media. Mr. Scheffel included a screenshot of a security log that he said was evidence of a hack on Saturday. He did not say how that could explain the columnist’s discovery of a document days earlier.
  • Feb. 7: Premier Christy Clark participates in a Facebook Live interview with the Vancouver Sun and Province newspapers, in which she says: “We saw them [the NDP] trying to hack into our website the other day.” She offers no proof, and Mr. Scheffel brushes aside subsequent requests for evidence.
  • Feb. 8: The NDP threatens legal action while Ms. Clark insists the whole affair is a non-story that voters don’t care about. Mr. Scheffel says the alleged hack was linked to computer IP addresses within the provincial legislature.
  • Feb. 9: The Premier says she shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions so quickly, though she refuses to apologize to the NDP. She also escalates her tone on the allegations themselves: “We should all be concerned someone is trying to subvert our democratic process.”
  • Feb. 10: Ms. Huntington publicly confirms her office, not NDP hackers, found the spreadsheet. The revelation prompts Ms. Clark to concede she was wrong and apologize to NDP Leader John Horgan.

James Keller

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