There is no correlation between a fund used for multicultural outreach services and the B.C. Liberal's ethnic outreach plan, according to Powell River - Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons.
“There's a huge difference between funneling money for partisan purposes and hiding it, as opposed to getting approval for a program that allows us to reach out, in a non-partisan way, to communities even beyond our constituency borders,” he said.
Simons was responding to an email sent by the B.C. Liberal Party to regional media outlets around the province about the New Democratic Party's (NDP) members constituency office centralized fund.
Starting in 2005, NDP caucus members contributed $200 a month to a fund to pool resources for outreach, including communications, advertising and translations. In a leaked document, B.C.'s auditor-general raised concerns about some aspects of the fund.
The NDP fund has been largely overshadowed by the Liberal's multicultural outreach plan to raise support in ethnic communities that used taxpayer-funded resources.
A team of four deputy ministers, headed by John Dyble, deputy minister to the premier, released a report on Thursday, March 14, that found serious misconduct by public officials, the misuse of government funds and the deliberate use of private emails to hide what was going on.
Shane Simpson, NDP caucus chairman, said the idea for the fund was presented to the legislative comptroller, the chief financial officer at the legislature, and he agreed to administer it.
“The account raised about $80,000 a year and we used it over a period of about five years to provide outreach services, supports, translations, some advertising, a variety of things around culture and protocol with a wide range of multicultural communities,” he said. “We were very careful to keep it away from the NDP as a party.”
When the auditor general reviewed the financial affairs of the legislature, he raised some concerns about the fund and the advice the comptroller gave the NDP caucus on a couple of matters, Simpson said.
“He disagreed with that advice and thought it was in error. We saw the auditor general's report, we essentially concurred, accepted the auditor general's report and dealt with it,” Simpson added.
The Liberals are anxious to change the channel and the conversation and they see this as the only thing they've found that they think resonates, Simpson said.
“They're pushing this pretty hard because it's the best they've got.”
Patrick Muncaster, Liberal candidate in the local riding, said he was surprised and disappointed by the revelations of the NDP fund.
“In political life, you have to be like Caesar's wife,” he said. “You have to not only be, but seem to be.”
Muncaster wondered what the mechanics around the fund were — did anybody sign cheques? — and what kind of services the $200 a month bought for Powell River - Sunshine Coast riding.
“Did it wind up in Vancouver somewhere?” he asked. “I think that's a reasonable thing for people to ask who live in the riding.”
Simons said that no one in his offices signed cheques.
“The constituency funds have benefited all the constituents in British Columbia,” he said. “The funds that we used for outreach, whether it was in the constituency or whether it's constituents in other parts of the province, did not go to the NDP.”
Muncaster added that he was also disappointed with what happened in his party.
In his early career, he was political staff, Muncaster said, working for a variety of ministers in the federal government.
“You perform your role, but during campaigns you're quite distinct from that,” he said. “That's where that thing went off the rails.”