B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix is seeking to limit the political damage from an audit of the Portland Hotel Society that has ensnared veteran party MLA Jenny Kwan.
Ms. Kwan is taking a leave of absence as the MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant after the audit showed she and her family benefited from lavish trips paid for by the society, which is publicly funded to provide social services to residents of the Downtown Eastside. She has also repaid almost $35,000 for two trips.
But the NDP's ties to the society are not limited to Ms. Kwan's now-dissolving marriage to Dan Small, a former society executive. The crossover between party activists and the society's brass runs deep – something Mr. Dix refused to address when he met with reporters in Victoria on Monday to talk about the controversy around the agency, which operates various social-services projects including Canada's only supervised-injection site, Insite.
Asked whether his party is tarnished because of those ties, Mr. Dix replied: "I think issues of poverty and inequality are some of the most important issues facing B.C. And it is clear the results of this audit have a negative effect on that … Audits such as this increase public cynicism."
He would not say whether Ms. Kwan would be able to represent the caucus as a critic on poverty issues after this. "She will back and represent her constituents," he said.
Later, in an interview, Mr. Dix said his party is suffering a setback, because it is so closely aligned with key players in the society.
"Their goals are the goals we supported," he said. "It's not very good for us … You bet I'm angry."
Mr. Dix told reporters he could not say how long Ms. Kwan will be absent from her job. "In addition to the political and financial issues, there are significant personal issues involved here."
The unpaid leave of absence is without precedent in British Columbia. MLAs can, and do, take leaves for serious illness. But Ms. Kwan sent a letter to the house clerk saying she wants her salary suspended until she returns.
Mr. Dix said Ms. Kwan should not have to take full responsibility for the actions of her spouse. "She was misled by her husband. You can only imagine, I think, the seriousness of that." Mr. Dix also suggested that because the B.C. Liberal government has funded the organization, the issues of accountability rest with the Liberals.
He said his party will make arrangements to provide services for her constituents, although he was vague on how that would be done.
Ms. Kwan's constituency office on Commercial Drive in Vancouver was open for business on Monday with staff present to deal with queries from voters.
Brian Waite, a 69-year-old retired legal assistant strolling by outside, said his impression from TV reports on Ms. Kwan's statements is that she is truly contrite about the situation and taking the leave so she can emotionally recover and return to her political duties.
He said he might be concerned if Ms. Kwan was going to take a long leave, but noted there are enough NDP MLAs to pick up on Ms. Kwan's House duties and sufficient staff in the constituency office to handle voter concerns. "I don't think it will affect our service," he said.
Gregor Phillips said it appeared "sad" that circumstances beyond Ms. Kwan's control put her in a difficult situation. "It sounds like she has just been swept up in a big controversy and, unfortunately, we have to lose an MLA because of it," said the 35-year-old film sound editor.
He said it would be "unfortunate" if Ms. Kwan was away for an extended period. "She does a great job," he said. "She has a lot of integrity and is really involved in a lot of community aspects. She has really strong support here in the neighbourhood."
Shane Simpson, the NDP caucus chair, said Ms. Kwan will be welcome to sit as a New Democrat whenever she chooses to return.
He said Ms. Kwan has given assurances there are no other questionable expenses involving her family that were picked up by the society outside of the audit period.