I am proud to run Martyn Brown’s work, Confronting the Government’s Crisis of Confidence in its entirety. It is essentially an new chapter in what is an excellent book. You can grab it here!
March 4, 2013
By Martyn Brown
British Columbians are watching intently to see how Premier Clark and her caucus responds to
the crisis of confidence that has resulted from the ethnic outreach scandal that flowed from her
office. The leaked “strategy” and its relating emails and spreadsheets all document an ethically
egregious and nefarious plan that has gravely undermined public trust and confidence in the
Clark government, and by extension, in the BC Liberal Party.
That fiasco, on top of many other incidents, errors and failings of leadership, has fundamentally
compromised the Office of the Premier and of all who are politically bound to serve and defend
it. As all “honourable members” are acutely aware, it is the honour of public office and the
integrity of each member that has been called into question by this scandal and by those
members’ individual and collective responses.
No doubt, all government MLAs are sincerely offended by the woefully inappropriate actions of
those political appointees who hatched and wrote the “plan.” However politically inept, naïve,
ignorant and downright stupid it surely was – on so many levels – it has caused enormous harm
to the government and most of all, to the very communities targeted by the “strategy.” It has also
irreparably hurt the Premier, whose reaction to issue to date has further damaged her waning
As the caucus members consider how to respond to their government’s growing crisis of
confidence, three related aspects must be kept in mind:
First, is the need to act in the public interest and in honour of their elected office, to
bolster public trust and confidence, as far as possible.
Second, is the need to ensure that the investigatory processes that are launched in
response to this scandal are appropriate, thorough, independent from government, and
beyond reproach. Which is to say that they must also inspire confidence in government.
Third, is the subordinate need to consider the politics of any response, within the known
and largely predictable political context, in anticipation of other new and ongoing
controversies that will only further erode public trust.
The cynical ethnic outreach plan, coordinated by the Premier’s closest advisor, has made a
mockery of its own stated intent. It did anything but “Demonstrate how much we value targeted
ethnic communities through meaningful engagement.” Far from realizing that objective with so-
called “quick wins,” the “strategy” failed those communities as it also devalued the public
interest, with overriding partisan intent that was – at minimum – subversive, sneaky and wrong.
The fallout from this debacle now threatens to impugn the honor and reputations of all BC
Liberal MLAs and candidates. It cries out for accountability, from top to bottom, consistent with
the conventions of responsible government and ministerial responsibility. On that point, one
thing is certain. The government cannot lay this incident solely on the doorstep of the line level
minister who was not even appointed to his portfolio until last September, well after the plan had
been crafted, initially acted upon, and ostensibly initiated with the blessing of the Premier’s
Office. It is appropriate that he step aside, as he has, for his clearly limited role in presiding over
the actions of the employees in his ministry and in his office.
Yet if the tables were turned and the government MLAs were instead sitting in judgement, as
members of the Official Opposition, they would all be rightly calling for the head of the main
minister responsible. In this case, that is the Premier. The fact that this scandal largely flows
from her office obviously complicates matters, as it also compounds the gravity of the situation.
It is a measure of the Official Opposition’s restraint under Adrian Dix that it has not already been
demanding the Premier’s resignation. His remarks today in the Legislature in response to this
issue and in response to Premier’s ministerial statement offering an overdue unreserved apology
were dignified and to the point. So was his gracious response to the announcement that Minister
Yap has stepped aside from his portfolio pending the outcome of the reviews now underway.
I would have expected him to also call for the Premier to accept equal personal responsibility.
One suspects it is also a case of Mr. Dix’s political attention to the axiom, “careful what you
wish for,” since her resignation is likely the last thing that his party wants heading into an
election. Or perhaps it is just a reflection of how diminished the principle of ministerial
responsibility has become, especially with an election in the offing.
Either way, the Premier’s avoidance of ministerial responsibility is unacceptable. Our passive
acceptance of those who flaunt their authority with blazon indifference to the tenet of ministerial
accountability is a sad sign of our times. We inadvertently legitimize that illegitimate behaviour
by our acquiescence. We should demand better from our elected leaders, coming as it does in this
instance, on the heels of other incidents that have also discredited the Premier’s Office. Mr. Yap
seems to understand that and all British Columbians should applaud his decision, whether or not
it was one that he initiated all on his own.
This is a scandal that stems from the inappropriate use of authority vested in the Premier’s
Office. It is a scandal for which the Premier must be accountable, as the minister responsible.
The utterly inappropriate ethnic outreach effort at issue was at least coordinated, if not largely
authored by, her closest political advisor. It is a scandal that involves the Premier’s former
deputy chief of staff and other senior political staffers in the Premier’s office, in other ministries,
and in the BC Liberal party and caucus.
The individual who has thus far born the brunt of criticism and accountability was arguably also
the Premier’s most powerful political staffer at time the plot was hatched. Yet it is the Premier
that must ultimately shoulder responsibility for the 17-page outreach strategy that was to be
undertaken with the implicit power and blessing of her office behind it. At its core, it was a plan
to subvert the spirit, if not the letter, of laws and policies that the Premier and her staff are
supposed to serve and strengthen through their example.
Until today’s repeated blanket apology in the Legislature, the Premier’s response to this crisis
had been appallingly inadequate. The initial apology that was penned on blank paper and read by
the government house leader, seemed reluctantly offered upon pressure from cabinet. The
Premier avoided every opportunity to directly address the situation, in an obvious effort to
distance herself from her most trusted staffers’ conduct. Even her comments offered at the end of
a scrum, following yesterday’s emergency cabinet meeting, only offered an apology for the
“language used” in the infamous memo at issue – not for its intent and contents.
Apart from those comments, until today, there had been no visible contrition by the Premier for
the harm done by her political staff. It was not evident in the terse three-sentence statement
released by the Premier in announcing her deputy chief of staff’s belated resignation. That lack
of contrition has added insult to injury and has demonstrated a profound lack of ministerial
responsibility. It only further undermines public trust and confidence in the Premier’s leadership,
in her government and in the BC Liberal Party.
Further, the high level leaks that have involved the Premier’s political appointees in various
capacities in the government, the caucus and the party, all point to structural deficiencies and
unacceptable behaviour that stain her leadership her at each stroke. However much the Premier
has tried to distance herself from those incidents, they all reflect on an unacceptable standard of
conduct that suggests inappropriate collusion between her government and her party.
In some cases, they suggest flagrant abuses of government resources and power that are
consciously aimed at improperly benefiting the BC Liberal Party and its candidates. All of those
incidents are either directly, or indirectly, an indictment of the Premier’s leadership in respect of
the individuals that were hired, their abuse of office and the pervading ethic reflected in their
actions. The Premier’s Office largely bears responsibility for those failings.
Moreover, given the ongoing scandals that the Official Opposition has so ably exposed, there is
every reason to believe that new damaging documents will surface in the weeks to come. They
will further erode the Premier’s credibility and impair her capacity to govern, as they will also
discredit her cabinet. They will continue to deepen the current crisis of confidence, possibly in
the midst of the election campaign.
Answering those leadership challenges will not get any easier for the BC Liberals. The closer
that the election gets, the harder and narrower any options will be, even as the pressure to act
builds. At some point, even some of the party’s most loyal backers will simply write the
government off, if they haven’t already. They will swing to the NDP or to other parties, or they
will simply sit on their hands on Election Day.
Sooner or later, the government caucus and BC Liberal candidates will be forced to come to
grips with that reality. If they believe that it is too late to act on the issue of leadership, it is only
because they have misjudged their leader’s ability to right the ship that she is sinking, or because
they have been too complacent to take appropriate corrective action.
Hard action must be taken to restore public confidence, as far as that is possible. I am not
optimistic that the government caucus really gets that imperative. Its tenuous four-seat majority
likely argues for cosmetic action aimed at convincing voters that all is well.
The majority of government members still reluctantly agree that their best hope is to defend the
status quo, not to change it, in any material respect. They are betting that the Premier’s reputed
skills as a campaigner will shine through at the 11th hour in favorable contrast to her principal
competitor. They will the hope that those in their ranks who are inclined to be vocally critical can
be silenced with sufficient caucus care and attention. And they are not inclined to insist upon the
type of investigatory responses that one would expect in demonstrating a genuine commitment to
getting to the bottom of this scandal with convincing intent.
That predictable response will be challenged as each harsh new day in the Legislature and on the
campaign trail unfolds. If past experience is any guide to the future, the BC Liberals are in for a
very rocky ride. The losing members who fall by the wayside like so many dominoes on May 14
may not be saved from their fate by anything they do today. But they can be redeemed to the
extent that they act with honour and integrity, motivated by an abiding concern for restoring
public trust and confidence.
The basis for any government’s very legitimacy in Canada is trust and confidence. That is the
key consideration that should guide all BC Liberal MLAs’ individual courses of action – not
Perhaps at this late stage in the game, any expectation that they will act to that end is a lost cause.
Some might even argue that it is more appropriate to not further rock the riddled boat by taking
any definitive steps that are aimed at salvaging its integrity. They will argue it is in the public
interest to do nothing; that the BC Liberals should reap what they have earned under Premier
Clark’s leadership and start anew in the wake of the electoral tsunami that is on the horizon.
I beg to differ. When the tide is running so visibly against you and it is exposing a wasteland of
flapping fish that all looks wrong, the worst thing you can do is to run further towards the
outward flow. Indeed, your life may well depend upon taking immediate corrective action and
savings others along the way, as you rush for higher ground and new perspective. So, too should
the government caucus now realize that it needs to act by reaching higher for government and for
In our system of responsible government, the government must at all times enjoy the confidence
of a majority of elected members in the B.C. Legislature.
Regardless of what transpires over the days ahead, a legislative vote of confidence will be held
that will either affirm the majority of members’ confidence in the government, or register its lack
of same. That vote on the Budget Measures Implementation Act (Bill 9) will almost certainly
show that the Clark government still enjoys the confidence of a majority of members.
The question that Premier and caucus must honestly answer is whether she and her party still
enjoys the confidence of the people, and more to the point, whether they should.
Only a fool would answer the first of those questions in the affirmative, with all polls showing
the government’s trust in tatters. And only the most devout partisans would now conclude that
the Premier and her party should enjoy the confidence of the people, least of all, without clear
In the Legislature, the question of confidence in the Premier cannot be separated from the issue
of confidence in the entire Executive Council. Any vote of confidence obviously extends to the
entire government and to the head of the Executive Council.
The convention of cabinet solidarity obliges all cabinet ministers to speak and act in unity, in
demonstrating the government’s singular voice for action. That solidarity is critical to the
government’s ongoing assertion that its holds the confidence of the Legislature, which underpins
its moral right to govern.
Cabinet meetings are generally effective in forging genuine solidarity of purpose, as
demonstrated yesterday. Cabinet is a very intimate, collegial and collaborative forum that
reinforces the “all for one, one for all” dynamic that is so central to its capacity for collective
action, which also inspires public trust and confidence.
The trouble is, all cabinet ministers have a double duty: to their sworn duties as members of the
Executive Council and also to their duties as MLAs. Ultimately, it is the latter responsibility that
must always hold sway in determining their course of conduct, especially when it conflicts with a
position of cabinet that they cannot support and yet are bound to uphold.
They must decide first, as elected representatives of the people and of their constituents, what is
the right course of action to foster confidence and trust in the institutions of government and in
the offices they hold. And then they must ensure they advocate for that action and stand behind it
as need be, even if that obliges them to resign from cabinet. Former cabinet ministers, from Blair
Leckstrom most recently, to Grace McCarthy and Brian Smith in the Vander Zalm years,
understood that point and acted with integrity to stand up for their positions and principles, in
defense of the public interest.
All cabinet ministers must now ask themselves whether they can honestly stand in solidarity
behind their leader in light of the problems that have befallen the government under her watch. If
they cannot, they must say so in private – in cabinet and/or in caucus – and they must act
accordingly, by either replacing the leader or by tendering their resignation.
That conundrum is an ongoing and fluid concern. It was emphatically answered yesterday. It is
challenged anew with each ugly tomorrow that forces reconsideration. Each new piece of
evidence of wanting leadership undermines public confidence in the entire government.
Strengthening public confidence in every office of government is equally imperative. Serving
that end should be a guiding principle for all public office holders, especially in the wake of this
latest controversy. That starts in the Premier’s Office, which bears the greatest responsibility for
the immediate problem at hand. It must lead the government responsibly forward on a path that
creates public confidence in elected and non-elected public servants alike.
As one who was formerly Canada’s longest-serving chief of staff to any first minister, I know a
thing or two about the influence and responsibilities that come with that office.
The premier’s chief of staff is obliged to render political advice that advances public confidence
with clear force and effect. Often that advice to a premier is not easy to give, and harder still for
any premier to receive and accept. It requires a relationship of trust and mutual respect that is not
readily forged in a short matter of months. Such relationships are tested and strengthened each
time good advice is truly heard, weighed, and acted upon, as appropriate.
The hardest thing for anyone to offer any premier is to advise him or her when their time is done,
for lack of public confidence, for the good of the province, in the interests of their party, and in
honour of their office.
Despite my serious misgivings about Christy Clark’s leadership – which prompted me to write
an eBook that I released last August, a-year-and-half after she assumed her position – I had
believed that she still carried the moral authority to govern. At that point, I did not, and would
not have, advised that her leadership was beyond salvaging.
I argued for a concerted effort to repair her government’s tarnished trust. I also suggested that
any such effort would not likely save her party from electoral defeat, but that it might do much to
re-earn public confidence. Indeed, many of the observations and suggestions I made in that
eBook were aimed at helping all parties to embrace new approaches and attitudes that might
improve public perceptions of politicians and government.
With all that has occurred since I wrote that book, today, I would have to advise Premier Clark in
the strongest possible terms to step aside in the public interest. Apparently, she is no more
inclined to reach that conclusion on her own volition than she was to read or accept any of the
advice I have so publicly offered, admittedly, largely at her expense.
Certainly, my observations and suggestions have not been comfortable for my former political
allies and employers to read, see, hear, or accept. And my advice here is no less difficult and
harsh. It will almost certainly fall on deaf ears that long ago tuned me out as a disgruntled foe,
instead of receiving it as intended – as one who knows the elected players well and who is angry,
sad and confounded by their will to self-destruction.
I have no delusions that my words here will change many minds there, in the hallowed halls of
power. Rather, I offer this advice and rationale to those who are today watching the government
give new meaning to the “sick culture” that Premier Clark has so righteously rejected. And if
nothing else, I offer this to say what needs to be said, as food for thought and reflection that
might be heard by those who seek to serve our province in public office.
It is clear that the vast majority of voters have a fundamental lack of confidence in Premier
Clark’s leadership and government. That is evident from all of the public opinion polls and,
perhaps most tellingly, from the Opposition’s desire for her to fight on, as most embattled
leaders do, even when every honest political bone in their body is telling them otherwise.
An added challenge for Premier Clark is that her most trusted political advisor was also at the
center of this latest controversy. That individual has now appropriately resigned, albeit not as
rapidly as I would have expected, and it would appear, only after the Premier was pressured by
her colleagues to take that important first step in renewing public confidence in her office.
The Premier’s current chief of staff, Dan Doyle, is a brilliant man of proven integrity and
considerable talent, with a very long and distinguished career in public service, if not as a
political advisor. He was brought into his position to restore confidence in that office – the top
political office in government – after it, too, was so badly undermined by his predecessor’s
inappropriate actions. Mr. Doyle was also brought in to provide stability in a Premier’s Office
that has been plagued by a string of ethically-charged controversies, communications
embarrassments, and unprecedented flux that has reduced public confidence in the government.
The chief of staff presides over all political appointees in his office, as well as those in
ministerial offices. I note that Mr. Doyle was not appointed as the Premier’s chief of staff until
September 23, 2012, and he appears to be in no way responsible for, or connected to, the ethnic
outreach scandal. Nevertheless, he is presumably the staffer who is most directly responsible for
ensuring that his office is appropriately served by any actions taken in respect of his political
staff, as well as by the advice rendered to the Premier.
The best advice any chief of staff can give to a sitting premier who has irretrievably lost public
confidence and who is facing a massive electoral defeat that in no way serves her colleagues or
her party is this: admit that it’s over, resign and give your government and your party a fighting
chance at re-earning some public trust and confidence. Do the honourable thing to uphold the
integrity of your office.
If it was not evident before to the Premier and to her colleagues that it is high time to accept and
act on that advice, it should be today. If that advice is tantamount to “tilting at windmills,” so too
is any plausible scenario where she can re-earn the level of public trust and confidence needed to
avoid political catastrophe for her party.
When any siege mentality takes hold, as is now the case with the Clark government, it is always
hard to admit when the cause is lost. It doesn’t help to fire more misplaced and random volleys
over the parapets at the overwhelming opposition that needs only to bide its time in wait of
certainty victory. Neither is it much of a strategy to simply hope that the growing forces gathered
against you will fall on their own swords, encouraged by taunts and jibes.
Real leadership demands a will to live to fight another day under more favourable conditions. It
demands game-changing action that is minimally aimed at sparing as many lives as possible and
at showing noble intent. Under the present circumstances, that demands a change in leadership,
which in any event, is certain to be dispensed by the voters on May 14. It is never a good thing
when it is obvious to all that the party leader will not even win back her own seat. That prospect
alone speaks volumes about Premier Clark’s current crisis of confidence.
With respect, the argument that no one else could do her job any better on an interim basis, or
fare any better in the upcoming election, doesn’t wash. What may well decide whether anyone
could do that with a greater likelihood of some success is the government’s unity of purpose in
making it happen, and obviously the quality and “newness” of the new leader.
It is true, that without unity of purpose in facilitating a successful transition, it is exponentially
harder for any new leader to earn the trust and confidence of the people. With a four-seat
majority, it can probably only be done with Premier Clark’s grudging compliance and support,
which is apparently, not on.
Yet, with that same slim majority, it equally only takes four members to immediately force an
election that I dare say, no BC Liberal candidate would welcome in the current context. It would
be incredibly hard to fight an election prompted by a vote of non-confidence triggered by the
Premier’s response to a scandal that her office caused and that has offended so many voters.
In effecting such a transition to a new leader, at least four options are obviously possible:
The Premier can stay on until a new permanent party leader is chosen before the next
The Premier can be immediately replaced by an interim leader and premier who is
chosen from amongst the governing caucus’s members or from outside of caucus to lead
the government and the party through the election.
The Premier can stay on until a new interim leader and premier can be chosen through a
less rushed transition that affords a more open and careful selection process, perhaps
lasting a week or so. That individual would govern and lead through and beyond the
An interim leader and premier could be selected as in either of the previous two
scenarios, pending an expedited party leadership contest that results in yet another new
leader to guide the party through the next election.
Of the four scenarios, considering the circumstances and the lack of time available until the writ
is due to be dropped, the third scenario seems most prudent. It is the most responsible approach
that would best serve the public interest in an orderly transition that is supported by the outgoing
Premier and that provides the greatest likelihood of at all times maintaining confidence in the
Under either scenario 2 or 3, the new interim leader would lead the government and the party
through the next provincial election. If successful (unlikely as that is), he or she would obviously
form the next government and would likely win any leadership vote. In the event of much
anticipated loss, he or she would be either affirmed or replaced as the party’s permanent leader,
within the context of a new political landscape and all that it infers for a leadership vote and for
the future of the governing party.
In scenario 3, an orderly transition would also serve to instill confidence in the Lieutenant
Governor that inviting a new premier to form a government so close to a set election would be
supported by a majority of MLAs and in the public interest.
That scenario is at best a remote possibility, to the extent that it also takes the outgoing premier’s
full cooperation, given Premier Clark’s stated intention to carry on. Yet, as Premiers Campbell
and Harcourt showed, it is always possible to facilitate a smooth transition in leadership if that
individual is prepared to put the public interest ahead of their own private interest in holding onto
power at any cost.
Obviously, a new leader selected from outside of the caucus ranks, who has no political baggage,
would be better positioned to regain a level of public trust that also enhances the BC Liberal
Party’s electoral chances. That is also so much easier said than done, least of all without the
outgoing premier’s assistance; or more importantly, without a prospective interim leader who is
demonstrably ready, willing and able to undertake what many would regard as a “mission
To Premier Clark’s credit, the BC Liberals have attracted a number of stellar individuals to run
as candidates. One of those individuals might be more credible to serve as interim leader and as
the premier through the election than a sitting caucus member. Any current member would be
hard-pressed to distance their government’s leadership and future direction from that of the
current regime. Alternately, another highly respected individual who is now serving at another
level of government or who is leading in some other private capacity, might be convinced to
undertake the challenge.
With barely five weeks to go before the writ is dropped to begin the next set election, any
prospect of a last-minute leadership change is obviously incredibly tough to contemplate and
execute. And, yes, it may only serve to further erode public confidence in the governing party. It
raises organizational challenges, staffing challenges and policy challenges that all anticipate
needed changes in showing that there is a renewed commitment to rebuilding public trust, with
new leadership and markedly different approaches.
Such a scenario also raises the possibility of extending the election date by a month, to give the
governing party a reasonable amount of time to elect a new leader and to put his or her team in
place. While many British Columbians and the Official Opposition would likely reject that as a
cynical avoidance of democratic accountability, it might be an idea worth exploring. I would
certainly not recommend that unless it could be done with bi-partisan support, in the interests of
fairness, which seems unlikely.
Politics aside, that statutory extension might be complemented by an additional amendment to
the Constitution Act that moves the date for the following general election to the fall of 2017, as
virtually all MLAs now appear to support.
A new budget would obviously not be tabled before the election. Nor would a new leader be
obliged to stand by the budget now before the Legislature as his or her vision for a new mandate.
That individual would be held to the same standard as other party leaders in offering a new party
platform that is, as far as possible, fully costed and equally binding on all candidates.
The question that all BC Liberals need to ask themselves is whether it serves the public interest
to try to change their leader, who they only elected two years ago? They must ask what message
that would send to all voters about their genuine concern for maintaining public confidence in
their government and in its highest office. And, of course, they must contemplate the political
ramifications for their party and for all nominated candidates, many of who have been attracted
by Premier Clark’s leadership.
To that end, all BC Liberal members and candidates must understand that the confidence so
many of them have so proudly professed in their leader is not shared by a substantial majority of
British Columbians, according to all current opinion polls. With 59 per cent of all voters and 29
per cent of all previous BC Liberal voters now saying they favour a change in government,
confidence was decidedly waning even before this latest scandal broke. And it is only one of
several new issues now plaguing the government.
Perhaps some measure of voter confidence can be re-earned through the upcoming election,
which without convincing change, promises to be a train wreck in motion. As things stand today,
the Clark government is destined to run smack into a wall of painful accountability that is largely
the result of poor leadership, failures of trust and limited vision in moving forward from the HST
The leader must answer for that problem and either fix it fast, with decisive action, or suffer the
consequences, whether they are administered by her caucus or by B.C. voters. Premier Clark
needs to contemplate the gravity of her government’s situation and think honestly of all the ways
in which her stewardship has exacerbated its current problems.
The Premier appointed and reappointed the minister who was the source of many of her party’s
most profound embarrassments. She hired the seniors staffers who have so humiliated
themselves, discredited the government, and in some cases, debased their offices with conduct
that failed the public interest that her government is bound to uphold. She set the bar for her
employees’ conduct and for her government’s conduct, which seems to fall lower each time it is
tested by partisan actions.
It is the Premier who must bear ultimate responsibility for her government’s shattered credibility
and severely blemished reputation, which she was entrusted by her party to repair and not to
worsen. It is her moral compass that has wrongly guided her party’s direction and her leadership
failings that are silently reflected in the wasteful government advertising that contradicts her
government’s claim to responsible and ethical fiscal management.
In her heart of hearts, this Premier must know, as her predecessor surely conceded in his final
days, that whatever her honest motives and best wishes might be, it is not working. Not for her
party. Not for her caucus and candidates. And not for the people of our province, who want,
expect and deserve so much better from the office she serves.
It is never too soon to do the right thing, nor is it ever too late to try to fix what is wrong. Acting
in both respects is how to build public confidence. If the Premier and her party continue to show
that they either don’t get that, or are incapable of putting their private and partisan interests
second to the need for public trust and confidence in government, the people will right that
wrong soon enough with resounding clarity.
Many have questioned whether it is possible to replace the current premier so close to an
election. The answer is, of course, yes – which is not to say that it would be easy. It never is.
Clearly, it would create a severe challenge that might prove to be unmanageable and politically
perilous, even if another capable individual could be identified who could demonstrate that he or
she maintains the confidence of the Legislature.
Yet, I know from my personal experience with Premier Vander Zalm’s forced departure that the
requirements for effecting such a change without running the risk of an immediate dissolution of
Parliament all come down to the issue of confidence. Here is what is essential in that regard:
If it is to be done, the Lieutenant Governor must be immediately convinced that the new
leader and government enjoys the confidence of a majority of members of the
The Lieutenant Governor must be persuaded that testing the above assertion through the
appointment of a new head of the executive council is in the broader public interest, in
light of the law and of present circumstances.
With the House sitting, the governing party’s wish to appoint a new leader as head of the
Executive Council would have to be conveyed in writing and in person by the governing
caucus’s designate – most likely, by the caucus chair. It would also have to be
backstopped by a confidence vote in the Legislature at the earliest opportunity, likely
within that same “sitting day.”
Even though the Lieutenant Governor generally only communicates with her Executive
Council and acts on its advice on matters that invite the government’s make-up, direction
or policies, it is possible for the legislative branch of the governing party to contact and
communicate with Her Honour on a contemplated change in leadership. That procedural
sticking point was answered with Premier Vander Zalm’s departure, when Rita Johnson
was chosen by a mere four-vote majority of the Social Credit Caucus to serve as its
interim leader and premier.
It is possible to secure an informal and private understanding from the Lieutenant
Governor’s office, via his private secretary, about the protocols that she might require in
consideration of any submission to appoint a new premier and to afford the governing
party a chance to prove it maintains the confidence of the Legislature. Yet there is no
guarantee that any individual recommended to replace a sitting premier will or must be
accepted by the Lieutenant Governor.
All of the above is an argument for decisive and orderly action that is aimed at providing new
leadership and new direction to help address the Clark government’s current crisis of confidence.
I now turn to the question of the propriety of the current process that purports to ensure that the
ethnic outreach scandal will be properly investigated.
Any such process must adequately provide for a thorough and independent investigation of all
facets of this scandal. It must contemplate the potential for illegal conduct involving entities and
individuals outside of government, and have sufficient authority and a broad enough scope of
mandate to conduct a thorough and independent investigation that inspires public confidence.
It is plainly a conflict of interest and also a political error to ask the deputy minister to the
premier to preside over an investigation into the conduct of individuals within the Premier’s
Office that might also engage the premier’s conduct. The Premier appoints that deputy, who
serves at her pleasure. All of the other deputies now engaged in the current “investigation” report
to him. It is untenable for those individuals to be put in the position of supposedly investigating
the Premier’s Office and also, potentially, their own boss.
Just as the current Conflict Commissioner cannot investigate the Premier on another matter, due
to a perceived conflict of interest that relates to a much more nebulous relationship, the Premier’s
deputy is in an impossible situation that looks like a conflict because it is. Fundamentally, the
Premier, of all people should understand this. All government members must also be sensitive to
It is not right to ask that individual to investigate any alleged wrongdoing by her closest political
advisor and other staff in her office, or who are subject to its direction, that might also potentially
implicate the premier. Indeed, that very reporting relationship also carries with the potential for
any investigation to be compromised by dint of what the Premier may inappropriately learn
about it along the way.
It is further evident from the terms of reference guiding Mr. Dyble’s investigation into the ethnic
outreach scandal that the deputies leading that process will have no mandate or authority to look
beyond government. They will have no ability or mandate to really get to the bottom of what
happened because their terms of reference are too limited and because they are unable to engage
the BC Liberal Party, the government caucus, or any other private people or entities that might
To be clear, I am not suggesting that any of the deputies engaged in the current review will do
anything but act with honour and integrity. Indeed, they have likely already uncovered enough
new information to add to the seriousness of the matter at issue. Yet they are saddled with a
process that is at least optically flawed.
As the Opposition argued again today in the Legislature, the documents at issue cry out for a
truly independent investigation. The public needs to know how they came to pass, who wrote
them, who vetted and approved them, and on whose behalf the “plan” was advanced to whatever
extent that it was. No doubt, the Freedom of Information Commissioner’s investigation will shed
much light on the matter. I also fully expect that the deputies’ review will result in further
processes that will pick up the investigation where they were obliged to leave off.
British Columbians need to know with certainty, what actions were executed and what
information was shared, not just within government, but between government and other outside
entities, including the governing party and its legislative caucus. They have a right to know what
ways the BC Liberal Party may have benefited, if in fact it did, and how government resources
were inappropriately used in this instance.
The Premier’s initial knee-jerk contention that no public resources were used to benefit her party
was also plainly wrong and ridiculous, in view of all that was already publicly known. Her
assertion that the plan in no way flowed from her office was equally absurd.
The Premier’s contention that “None of the money that was talked about in that report was ever
spent for the purposes that the people writing the document thought it might be, and … there was
no sharing of resources between government and the party” is contradicted by the evidence now
in the public domain.
That comment further implies that she has already conducted her own review and determined
what happened, a question that itself needs to be clarified and independently explored.
Her suggestion that she has initiated an “independent review” in order “to be absolutely sure of
that” – meaning her above quoted contention – also concedes that she was in no position to assert
any such conclusion about the plan she tried to minimize. In contrast to her initial cavalier
treatment of this issue, she now rightly describes the matter as a “very serious issue.” Likely that
new characterization is because she has already been made aware of early findings flowing from
Mr. Dyble’s process that point to much more serious issues than she first supposed in her
careless speculations last week.
I am not alleging that any laws have been broken by anyone. But the impression conveyed by the
wording of the documents at issue is alarming, to say the least. As such, the current deputies’
review process now underway is patently inadequate. It will surely provide some useful findings
and leads for further investigation. Yet, it is not a process that inspires confidence. Rather, it is a
process that looks to be intentionally limited in scope and reach and that is incapable of
investigating the broader issues and the private parties involved. The government caucus must
correct this by insisting upon an appropriate investigation that is unfettered and arm’s length
from the Premier and the government.
The Premier has an obligation to show she understands what is right and wrong, and also what
looks right and wrong. This scandal, the current review process, and the Premier’s handling of
the issue so far, all look very bad, indeed. They only add insult to injury and compound public
mistrust and disgust.
In addition to the FOIPPA Commissioner’s just-initiated review, the current deputies’ review
should be immediately replaced with a truly independent investigation led by a suitable arm’s
length designate appointed by the Deputy Attorney General. That individual should be asked to
conduct a thorough and exhaustive review. All materials should also be immediately provided to
the RCMP in the event that they might contemplate or engage statutory breaches that might, in
turn, indicate the need for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor.
Should the Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Criminal Justice Branch, at some point consider
it in the public interest to appoint a Special Prosecutor to preside over any aspect of the above
investigations, the name and appointment of that individual should be publicized without delay.
British Columbians should know that, under the Act, the Branch has the authority to “approve
and conduct…all prosecutions of offences,” which include any criminal matters and also any
offence “under an enactment of British Columbia.” As such, a Special Prosecutor might be
appointed in respect of any statutory offence that might be at issue, not just those that pertain to
What about the individuals already named in this fiasco?
If I had been in the unfortunate position of having to preside over the handling of this incident in
my former capacity, I would have firmly insisted that any of the known authors of the memo be
asked to either immediately resign or be fired with cause. The documents in question are so
plainly wrongly on so many levels, they call for demonstrated accountability as a matter of
public confidence. All political staffers in government are order-in-council appointees who
“serve at the pleasure.” They can be relieved from their duties at any moment, by the stroke of
ministerial pen, either with or without cause and compensation, as warranted.
Whether it is entirely fair or not to the individuals in question is not the preeminent concern in an
apparent abuse of public office of this magnitude. Rather, it is the honour of the office and the
public’s confidence in it that must be paramount. Again, that principle of confidence must be the
overriding consideration in determining all action, from the Premier, on down, to everyone
whose conduct is now called into question.
I have already largely addressed the politics of this situation. The blunt fact is, they stink.
No matter what actions are taken, it will be very hard for the BC Liberals to move beyond this
scandal and the many mistakes they have made. In a democracy, sometimes there is no action
that a wounded government can take that will materially satiate the voters’ anger, mistrust and
will to punish at the ballot box. That is likely the case today.
Still, the most important thing that the government caucus can do to maximize its party’s
electoral chances is to show that it is finally prepared to fundamentally address the problems that
are the root of the voter’s mistrust and lack of confidence. I argued as much in my eBook and in
subsequent columns, to no avail. From the HST debacle onwards, the government has been the
author of its own misfortunes, and at every turn, each mistake it has made all adds to its growing
deficit of public trust, confidence and credibility.
This election will not be about the NDP, or which leader looks best on TV as a bubbly champion
for either “free enterprise” or “socialism” – a lame dichotomy that is also irrelevant. It will not be
about the NDP’s last term in office, or its leader’s failings in respect of his former office, some
15 years ago. Nor will it be about the dollars and cents of either party’s dubious reckonings of
program costs and budget balances that will surely sink in the quicksand of hard facts and
economic changes that no one can accurately anticipate.
Rather, this campaign will be about one thing: change aimed at renewal, trust and confidence. If
the BC Liberals believe that they are better positioned to make a convincing argument on that
front with their current leader, in light of all that has transpired, so be it. I believe that a more
prudent political course is to show now – at last – that real change is in the air and will be led by
a new team that is not discredited.
It is not too late to start down that path with conviction, even if I very much doubt it will happen.
Sometimes governments have an innate death wish that is acted upon in contorted rationality.
Usually when such governments die, they do so spectacularly. Especially in British Columbia.
In the final analysis, a genuine will to honour, trust and confidence is even now this
government’s best strategy. It is the demonstrated will to really change and to grow and learn,
with real vision, convincing action and positive purpose.
Premier Campbell offered his colleagues and his party that chance by shouldering full
responsibility for the HST fiasco that did so much to compromise public trust in his government.
Christy Clark rode that wave of opportunity right to the Premier’s Office, which now stands in
an even worse light than it did before she arrived. She also wasted that opportunity that initially
seemed so promising to so many British Columbians who were prepared to give her a chance to
prove her merit.
Whether anyone else could similarly gain new benefit of doubt is dubious. Indeed, the leader
who has gained the most prestige in contrast to all that has transpired and due to the changes he
has led and embraced, is Mr. Dix. Politically, he has no better foil than the sitting Premier, whose
leadership has done so much to make his case for change.
If Mr. Dix and his party do form the next government, as is now widely expected, I hope that his
members reflect deeply on this time and all that it suggests for their future conduct. And I hope
that all British Columbians reflect on this sorry example as yet one more important reason to
demand better of their elected leaders in acting to serve the public interest with honour and