Laura Miller, set to go to trial in a year's time on a criminal charge of breach of trust in Ontario, will spend the next eight months as the campaign chief for Premier Christy Clark and her B.C. Liberals.
Ms. Miller, instrumental in the Premier's come-from-behind 2013 election victory, was temporarily sidelined from her job as party executive director after the criminal charges were laid in December, 2015. The charges stem from a police investigation into the deletion of e-mails about the Ontario Liberals' decision to cancel two gas plants before the 2011 election, at a cost of up to $1.1-billion.
Ms. Clark said last December that her party's top organizer had stepped aside to "focus on clearing her name." Just three months later, Ms. Miller, a former Ontario Liberal staffer, was reinstalled and has now been promoted to the critical role of the party's campaign director for the May, 2017, election.
When Ms. Miller returned to B.C. Liberal headquarters last March, Ms. Clark said she was upholding the principle that individuals are innocent until proven guilty.
The party executive stated it had full confidence in her, and Deputy Premier Rich Coleman extolled Ms. Miller's organizational skills. "Our issue was, is she qualified to do the job? People still want her to be here," he said.
The party did not issue a news release on the new appointment.
Ms. Miller herself announced her new status this week in one of her regular campaign updates that she e-mails to party supporters. "As my first official update as 2017 Campaign Director, I'm happy to report that our Party is in great shape to take on a very busy fall," she wrote.
Ms. Miller is one of two former Ontario Liberal staffers charged in relation to allegations of wiping computer hard drives in the office of then-premier Dalton McGuinty. She and David Livingston each face one count of breach of trust, one count of mischief in relation to data and one count of misuse of a computer system to commit mischief. The pair were accused of bringing in Ms. Miller's partner, IT technician Peter Faist, to wipe clean the hard drives of computers in Mr. McGuinty's office shortly before he stepped down in 2013. The trial has been set for September, 2017.
Ms. Miller has refused media interviews, but has maintained she will mount a vigorous defence, and was able to crowd-source a substantial fund to pay her legal costs. Throughout the long-running scandal, Ms. Clark has stood by Ms. Miller, describing her as "a person of the utmost integrity."
Craig Keating, president of the B.C. NDP, said Ms. Miller's appointment is a fitting choice for the provincial Liberals. He cited a string of ethics controversies, including the "quick wins" strategy to secure ethnic votes and a triple-delete culture that this summer led to a guilty plea by a former government staffer over his role in deleting sensitive e-mails and then making false statements to mislead the provincial privacy commissioner.
"I think the Premier has appointed a campaign director who fits right in," Mr. Keating said in an interview. "I don't think too many people know who Laura Miller is, but they may connect the dots and see she is part of the kind of team that will say and do anything to get elected."
Ontario MPP Peter Tabuns, the NDP energy critic, said he was shocked at the appointment.
"This is a woman who hasn't been found guilty of anything, but she is caught up in a scandal about the widespread destruction of government records. I'd have thought the B.C. Liberals with their own e-mail deletion scandals would be leery of promoting her."
Political science professor Dr. Jamie Lawson of the University of Victoria said the Liberals have likely calculated that the optics are outweighed by the need for her skill set, which is difficult to secure at the provincial level. "People in the circuit of day-to-day politics may find it hard to respect a decision like this, but we in the general population are hard-pressed to identify leaders of opposition parties, much less campaign staff," he said in an interview. "This only becomes relevant if this issue blows up in the middle of the campaign – if it attaches the brand of the Premier and her party."
Ms. Miller was recruited to for work for the B.C. Liberal party after serving as a top political strategist in the McGuinty government. Neither Ms. Miller nor Ms. Clark could not be reached for comment Wednesday.