A day after Premier Christy Clark had to admit that her government had not been the beacon of openness and transparency she promised it would be, she was forced to accept the resignation of the executive director of her Liberal Party, charged criminally Thursday related to the destruction of government records while working in the office of the Ontario premier.
As they say, in politics timing is everything.
For her part, Laura Miller said in a statement that she plans to fight charges of breach of trust, mischief and misuse of a computer system connected to a scandal that erupted under Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty over the cancellation of two gas plants in the lead-up to the 2011 election. Ms. Miller worked in Mr. McGuinty's office as deputy chief of staff.
She had been implicated by police in the purge of e-mails that took place in the premier's office, a covert operation that also involved Ms. Miller's boyfriend (now husband) Peter Faist. An IT consultant, Mr. Faist was allegedly brought in to scour government computers clean of any incriminating e-mails related to the controversial gas-plant decision.
When Ms. Miller was made executive director of the B.C. Liberal Party in the summer of 2013, Ms. Clark was well aware of the gas-plant imbroglio and Ms. Miller's alleged role in it. She was also aware that there was a police investigation under way and that there was always a possibility that charges might one day be laid. But she stood by Ms. Miller and has always insisted on her innocence. But the Premier had little choice but to accept her resignation after the charges were laid.
This is not good news for Ms. Clark on many levels.
Obviously, the optics are horrible. Ms. Clark is fresh off dealing with a controversy of her own around the routine and wanton destruction of e-mails by her own ministers and political staff. She spoke this week like someone who realized that matter had left a terrible impression with the public, one that spoke to the integrity of her administration. Now, her executive director is facing criminal charges relating to the same type of activity. Is it something endemic to the Liberal brand?
It's anyone's guess how long this could drag out for Ms. Miller. If it's not resolved by the time the next B.C. election comes along in May, 2017, it will allow Ms. Clark's political opponents to use the situation to their advantage. There's little question that the New Democrats are building an election case that will, in part, be designed around the many ethical lapses of the Clark government.
More worrying for the Premier, perhaps, is the absence of Ms. Miller from party headquarters. By all accounts, the 36-year-old political strategist has done a remarkable job building the provincial Liberals into a formidable fighting machine. Party coffers have never been fuller; constituency associations never better organized. The army of volunteers she has amassed is said to be impressive. While young, she possesses excellent leadership skills and has done a particularly good job of inspiring young people to get involved in the party.
While she undoubtedly had a long list of items on her To Do list before the next election, Ms. Miller leaves the party in good shape. That said, I would highly doubt her resignation will end phone calls between herself and Ms. Clark and other senior party officials. She'll likely still continue to answer critical questions and dispense advice; she just won't be getting paid for it.
Meantime, senior party strategists I spoke to don't seem to be particularly alarmed by Thursday's developments; or they're just good at putting on a brave face. If the NDP want to use Laura Miller to make their case for throwing the government out, they say, the Liberals are happy to fight them on it.
As far as they're concerned, the public is concerned about one thing: the economy. And a contretemps over the destruction of e-mails in Ontario a long time ago won't have much resonance in this province two years from now, they're betting.
Laura Miller has hired high-profile barrister Clayton Ruby to defend her. This could be taken two ways: either it reveals the degree to which she is worried about the charges and the seriousness attached to them, or she's convinced the police case against her is so flimsy that it will collapse like a cheap lawn chair when exposed to the weight of an experienced legal mind.
Either way, when and if this matter ever goes to trial there will be lots of interest, especially on this side of the Rockies.