Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali has admitted that partisan ads he ran in area newspapers broke rules, but he promises that taxpayers won't pay for them.
Chilliwack MLA John Les asked the legislative speaker on Monday to investigate a series of NDP advertisements he described as "partisan and negative."
Lali said later that he spoke with Bill Barisoff, speaker of the legislature, and has assured him that the ads will be paid for by the Fraser-Nicola NDP Constituency Association - not with public funds.
"From time to time, MLAs slip up," Lali said, acknowledging that the ads violated the rules on taxpayer-funded advertising. "The thing is, every few years, obviously, people's perceptions change, times change."
"These ads are clearly partisan, (they) direct readers to the B.C. NDP's political party website and personally attack a fellow MLA," Les said earlier in a news release.
The four campaign-style ads were published in recent editions of the Merritt Herald, the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal and the Lillooet News. The only MLA mentioned in the ads is Premier Christy Clark.
Though the public is accustomed to seeing partisan advertising, even outside of elections, the ads can't be financed through constituency allowances.
"If it turns out these ads originated from and were paid for by Mr. Lali's taxpayer-funded constituency allowance, it would be a violation of the standards of conduct for MLAs," Les said.
Rules require that ads paid for with constituency allowances must be strictly informational in content and cannot promote political parties or advocate partisan positions.
Lali said the Liberals are merely playing politics.
"First of all, isn't it kind of ironic that John Les, who has had so many legal problems and investigations, and lost his cabinet seat because of it, is asking for an investigation," he said.
Barisoff concurred, though, that the ads did not meet the standard for publicly funded material.
"Taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of this," Lali stressed. "When the bill (for the ads) comes, the NDP will be paying."
He said the ads were not personal attacks but were focused on policy issues. They referred readers to the B.C. NDP website, which Les alleged was a misrepresented as the site of the official opposition.
Lali said MLA Kevin Krueger made a similar mistake several years ago by referring visitors at his MLA website to the B.C. Liberal website.
Les said it's not an isolated incident for Lali. It's the second time in as many weeks that he has raised the same issue over materials originating from Lali's office. He said he sent a letter last week to the speaker, asking him to investigate a "negative, partisan" news release issued Jan. 28 by Lali's constituency office.
The letter criticized Jackie Tegart, Lali's Liberal opponent in Fraser-Nicola, for not speaking out on issues such as health-care cuts, school closures and the sale of B.C. Rail. It also criticized the Liberals for consistent "heavy-handedness with local nominations."
Lali apologized last week, calling the news release an honest mistake. He said the release was inadvertently issued by his constituency office and promised that would not happen again.
"That was simply a mistake. I have a couple of new staff members. Basically what I need to do is check everything," he said.
Les's emphasis on the negative nature of the materials plays off the NDP's pre-election ad campaign, in which NDP Leader Adrian Dix emphasizes positive messages over negative campaigning.
"Adrian Dix says he disapproves of negative, partisan advertising. The repeated actions of Mr. Lali are further proof that Mr. Dix is all talk and no action when it comes to negative and personal attacks."
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