When a political mindset sets in

A single criminal charge for breach of trust by a public officer against former B.C. government communications director Brian Bonney is disturbing and should not be seen in the context of a goal or miss on a political scorecard.

Parliament Building, Victoria, B.C. Photo: Creative Commons image by KirinX

The headlines were emphatic: ‘Quick wins’ amounted to little for NDP, ‘Quick wins’ report lands with a dull thud.

But behind the headlines something unsettling: a window into a culture of seeming impunity, where players are told anything goes, do whatever it takes to win.

A single criminal charge for breach of trust by a public officer against former B.C. government communications director Brian Bonney is disturbing and should not be seen in the context of a goal or miss on a political scorecard.

It’s the latest manifestation of a political mindset that should worry British Columbians.
In November 2012, The Province reported that in 2011 the B.C. Liberal party’s CantAffordDix website “was crafted by government employees at the B.C. legislature under the watchful eye of the premier’s office.”

Lesson lost, though.

At the same time that The Province was reporting that news, ‘Quick wins’ – or the multicultural outreach strategy – was in full swing.

Emails that were released in June 2013 – as a result of then-deputy minister to the premier John Dyble’s investigation into the strategy – offer a glimpse into that anything goes culture, even when redacted.

In one, executive assistant Mike Lee emailed then-multiculturalism minister John Yap and wrote: “It is absolutely critical that we do not leave any evidence in us helping them through this application” Yap replied: “I appreciate each of your efforts with the 3 RFQs (request for qualifications). Great job. Let’s now hope for the best.”

In another set of emails, Bonney informed fellow political staff Lee, Fiera Lo, Barinder Bhullar and the premier’s director of outreach Pamela Martin that “Sepideh (Sarrafpour) worked hard to ensure that the 2012 World Partnership Walk did not invite the NDP this year. No NDP were in attendance.”

Not true, but revealing of their mindset nonetheless.

Bonney’s email was written in what can only be described as a mutual “high-five” over a 24 Hours front page photo of Premier Christy Clark and Yap at the walk.

Three months later, it was the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver’s annual telethon that was the subject of their arm-twisting.

Bonney wrote: “The Event Director indicated he can adjust to what we want to do to maximize MJY (Minister John Yap) exposure.”

They were walking a fine-line with both the walk’s organizer and the cultural centre, as the two groups are registered charities.

According to Revenue Canada’s rules a registered charity may not take part in a partisan political activity, which it defines as “any activity that provides direct or indirect support or opposition to any political party at any time, whether during an election period or not, or to a candidate for public office.”

Fallout from the ‘Quick wins’ strategy for political staff was swift.

Then-deputy chief of staff to the premier Kim Haakstad, Bonney, Lee, Lo and Sarah Welch were found to have breached the public sector’s standards of conduct. Haakstad and Lee resigned.

Others, including Martin, Bhullar and Dave Ritchie were found to have engaged in misconduct with “mitigating factors.”

Lesson lost again, though.

Throughout this entire period, political staff were triple-deleting their way to career advancement.

As a result of B.C. privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s investigation into the scandal, former assistant to Transportation Minister Todd Stone, George Steven Gretes, was charged with two counts of “wilfully making false statements to mislead, or attempt to mislead, under the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.”
In her report – Access Denied – Denham found that a second deputy chief of staff to the premier, Michele Cadario, had also put political interests ahead of the public’s interest.
Cadario “bulk-deleted” emails on a daily basis in contravention of B.C.’s freedom of information law.

Others implicated in the affair, included then-director of issues management for the premier Evan Southern, Nick Facey chief of staff to Citizens Services Minister Amrik Virk and B.C. Liberal caucus research director Jen Wizinsky.

Since April 2014 – as a direct result of the ‘Quick wins’ strategy – standards of conduct for political staff are now in place.

They read in part: “Political staff will exhibit the highest standards of conduct. Their conduct must instill confidence and trust and not bring the Province of British Columbia into disrepute.”

Clearly, it’s still a work in progress.



Dermod Travis
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC, a non-profit group that aims to restore bonds between citizens and their elected officials. He has been the executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee from 2007 to 2011, and is the founder of PIRA Communications. He is a former member of Quebec’s Estates General on the Situation and the Future of the French Language and its Comité d’examen sur la langue d’enseignement.