Tory leader John Cummins accuses Liberals of again mixing public and party business
By Cassidy Olivier, The Province
Team members included a research officer with government caucus, several ministerial assistants, staff at the Premier’s Office and a corporate director of strategic planning for Government Communications and Public Engagement.
The team was under the direction of Dimitri Pantazopoulos, a former principal secretary to Premier Clark who is now on contract with the B.C. Liberal Party, and chaired by Sam Oliphant, then a research officer with government caucus, The Province has learned.
“Hi all,” begins an email from Oliphant, dated Aug. 30, 2011, to the team members. “As discussed over the phone, I’ll be co-ordinating this BCC group and we’ve been directed by Dimitri to have a preliminary meeting as soon as possible to go over the objectives of the group and discuss how we’re going to get the most out of it.”
The email was time stamped 5:02 p.m. and sent from Oliphant’s private account to the private email accounts of the team members.
The purpose of the team, according to a confidential source, was to use taxpayer funded resources for the benefit of the B.C. Liberal Party, a point indirectly refuted by both Oliphant and Pantazopoulos when asked to comment on the group.
“I did do political work, as a political staff, during my time in caucus,” said Oliphant, who is now a communications officer with the B.C. Liberal Party. “In fact, I remember being asked to dig up stuff on John Cummins because your colleague . . . was looking for some information. That is the type of work we did, and it is the type of work the NDP do as well.”
Said Pantazopoulos: “I have no interest in vague stories based on unverified emails from sources whose motives are suspect. All allegations of impropriety are false and spurious.” Neither Pantazopoulos or Oliphant spoke directly to the existence of an Conservative attack group or any work that may have been done as part of the team.
The “Book on John Cummins,” a four-page document, drafted by Oliphant, that outlined B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins’s position on variety of issues, is at least one tangible product of the team.
“Hi all,” reads an email from Oliphant, dated Sept. 22, 2011 and sent to the private email accounts of the group members. “First, attached you will find the ‘Book on John Cummins’ that I’ve put together . . . Second, Dimitri has asked that someone go through their policy document sent out earlier this month and put together a bit of a report that looks at three specific things 1) What is worth stealing? 2) What has already been done? 3) What is just crazy/impossible/impractical/dangerous etc.?”
“Third, it would be good next week to go over the Premier’s jobs agenda. Carleen [Kerr, then an executive assistant to the attorney general] is working on a document that compares the Premier’s program to the BCC policy document, and that will be a good starting point for a group discussion on how we can go on the counter attack.”
The email also suggests a meeting time for that week: “same time as our last meeting (10AM).” Meetings were held in a committee room in the legislature. Asked about the book on Cummins, Oliphant said “I’m not sure what document you are referring to.”
As noted in the recently-released Dyble Report, which was drafted in response to the Liberal’s controversial ethnic outreach plan, the work political staff — executive assistants, ministerial assistants and government caucus — do often crosses into a grey area.
For example, drafting the book on Cummins falls within the duties of a caucus researcher. But overt partisan activities or discussion inside the workplace is against the rules outlined in the B.C. Public Service Act.
Sharing the information with the Party would also be a clear violation of established codes of conduct.
The report noted that the current standards of conduct “may not be adequately designed” for political staff, given the often times blurred boundaries. However, the report was clear that partisan politics “are not to be introduced into the workplace.”
GCPE employees are also considered “part of the non-partisan public service” and are expected to “provide non-partisan advice” the report noted.
Shown a copy of the document drafted in his name and one of the emails, Cummins said it is “regretful and disappointing” that Clark’s government appears to have again crossed the line “between public service on behalf of British Columbians” and “partisan work on behalf of the B.C. Liberal Party.”
“It is also extremely disconcerting that B.C. Liberal political appointees once again have been revealed as using private, personal email addresses through which they have attempted to hide their partisan activities,” he said in a statement.
CATALOGUE OF PLAYERS
Many of those identified in the private emails have since changed their positions. The following is a list of who was included and their positions at the time of the August and September 2011 emails:
Sam Oliphant, research officer government caucus.
Ken Dawson, ministerial assistant to minister of education (now director of policy in the Premier’s Office).
Kiel Giddens, ministerial assistant to minister of environment.
Samantha Howard, ministerial assistant.
Jeff Melland, communications officer in government caucus.
Carleen Kerr, executive assistant to the attorney-general.
Rebecca Scott, communications co-ordinator and deputy press secretary in the Office of the Premier.
Trevor Halford, senior communications co-ordinator in the Office of the Premier.
Spencer Sproule, senior issues management co-ordinator in the Office of the Premier.
R.J. Senko, ministerial assistant, ministry of sports and cultural development.
Nina Chiarelli, corporate director, strategic planning GCPE.
Below is the Book on John Cummins prepared by the Liberals:
The Book on John Cummins
The Book on John Cummins