Premier Christy Clark has apologized and ordered a review after a leaked document showed her government planned to woo ethnic votes with provincial resources.
Deputy Premier Rich Coleman read the statement in the legislature Thursday and later said he should have a good idea within 24 hours of what went wrong and how.
"Some of the things that are in this thing are unacceptable. It blurs the lines, it goes beyond the lines," Coleman said outside the legislature as he promised to release a written report of the review.
Reaction to the leak and apology was mixed, ranging from those who see it as a minor embarrassment to those who feel it shows another misuse of taxpayer dollars.
"I'm glad that Premier Clark has apologized but, that said, it wouldn't have been made if the government was not found out," said Peter Sharp, B.C. Conservative candidate in Kamloops-South Thompson. "The misuse of taxpayer resources again shows that this government is out of control and not being accountable."
Kathy Kendall, Kamloops-North Thompson NDP nominee, said there is clear evidence that public resources were to be used.
"The connection is, using data collected as a government to pursue party purposes," Kendall said. "I think it's clearly a misuse of public money. It doesn't even try to disguise itself the way the provincial ads do," she added, alluding the $16-million government ad campaign already widely criticized.
"People should be outraged."
The document caused a firestorm in the provincial legislature Thursday as the NDP continued for the second day to hammer the Liberals over its the contents.
The January 2012 document leaked to the NDP and released Wednesday outlines a proposed ethnic outreach plan involving the premier's office, the multiculturalism ministry, the government caucus and the B.C. Liberal Party.
The 17-page paper includes eight strategy components, including advice for so-called "quick wins" gained by correcting historical wrongs.
"I want to sincerely apologize to British Columbians," said Clark's statement.
"The document did not recognize there are lines that cannot be crossed in conducting this outreach and it is unacceptable."
The statement goes on to say "some of the recommendations are absolutely inappropriate."
The leaked strategy reveals plans to outflank the NDP in its approach to handling the ethnic media, with the objective to "match and then exceed the B.C. NDP's ethnic media efforts in a place of importance equal to that of so-called mainstream media."
The strategy document, dated Jan. 10, 2012, and titled Multicultural Strategy Action, was sent by Kim Haakstad, Clark's deputy chief of staff, to the personal email addresses of eight people, including Pamela Martin, who works for the premier's office; Brian Bonney, a former government multiculturalism communications director; and former Liberal caucus official Jeff Melland.
Courting the ethnic vote is old hat in Canadian politics, so the matter hinges on whether public resources were to be used.
"I just don't think it's all that serious," said Ray Pillar, a retired political scientist. "Frankly, the NDP is doing the same thing (wooing the ethnic vote), but using public money to do it is the tricky part of the deal."
He said the issue is more of a mole hill than a mountain. He'd be surprised if the NDP didn't use the same approach.
"The only embarrassing thing is that it was leaked …. The bottom line is, they've got to find out what idiot leaked the document."
Among the Liberal actions the document recommends is the May 2008 apology to the Indo-Canadian community for the Komagata Maru incident.
The incident dates back to May 1914 when a charter ship with 376 people from India arrived in Vancouver's harbour. Canadian immigration officials refused to allow the people to disembark.
The ship stayed anchored in the harbour for two months before returning to Calcutta. Upon the ship's return to India, a riot erupted and 20 people died.
A plan to apologize for the Chinese head tax, imposed on immigrants more than a century ago, was mentioned in the document. There was speculation as to whether the apology should come before or after the May election.
Joe Leong, a member of the Kamloops Chinese Cultural Association, said he was unaware of any such apology being considered.
The document also includes several references to tailoring government and Liberal news to the ethnic media, ensuring there is proper translation. That could imply use of public resources for partisan purposes, which is forbidden.
"I've been in this House almost 20 years," said New Democrat MLA Mike Farnworth said in question period following the apology. "I don't think I've ever seen a government as humbled or humiliated in this fashion."
NDP House Leader John Horgan said the Liberals' plan to have the premier's deputy minister investigate to see if any government resources were inappropriately used falls short. Horgan said only an outsider can do a proper review.