VICTORIA – A former communications director in British Columbia’s Liberal government is accused of breach of trust connected to a vote-getting scandal that prompted a public apology from Premier Christy Clark and cheating allegations by the Opposition New Democrats.
Brian Bonney was charged Tuesday in connection with a behind-the-scenes strategy by the Liberals to win ethnic votes in the 2013 election.
The criminal charge came on the same day that Elections Act charges alleging failure to disclose a campaign contribution against Bonney and Liberal Mark Robertson were stayed. A numbered B.C. communications company charged along with Bonney and Robertson pleaded guilty and was fined $5,000.
The scandal broke when documents obtained four years ago by the NDP Opposition outlined a Liberal government plan to woo the multicultural vote.
A statement Tuesday by B.C.’s Criminal Justice Branch said special prosecutor David Butcher approved the criminal charge against Bonney.
Outside Vancouver’s law courts, Bonney’s lawyer, Ian Donaldson, said his client will fight the criminal code charge.
“It has apparently nothing to do with money,” he said. “There’s no allegation of that. It appears to be a suggestion of a sharing of information.”
The Criminal Justice Branch statement said Butcher continued his investigation after the first Elections Act charges were laid in 2014, and he received three separate reports from the Crown and the RCMP connected to the government’s draft multicultural strategic outreach plan.
The investigation was launched shortly after a report from Premier Christy Clark’s former deputy minister John Dyble concluded that lines between the B.C. government and the provincial Liberal party were clearly crossed in the government’s effort to win ethnic votes.
The review caused Clark’s popularity ratings to plunge prior to the May 2013 election and forced the resignation of her then-multiculturalism minister, John Yap.
Clark later apologized in the legislature for the ethnic votes plan, saying it was a serious mistake.
In September 2013, just months after the Liberals were re-elected, former B.C. New Democrat leader Adrian Dix said he forwarded information to the RCMP in connection with the Liberal government’s plan to court ethnic voters. He refused to provide details, but said his actions had nothing to do with sour grapes over losing the election.
He said the effort put into the discredited multicultural-outreach plan by the Liberals was massive, reached the top levels of the government and included job offers to silence critics.
The review by Clark’s former deputy made six recommendations and found two serious instances of misuse of government resources, including that Bonney was being paid as a government employee while he worked for the government caucus and Liberal Party.
Dyble’s report said at least half of Bonney’s time was spent doing work for the Liberal party on the ethnic-outreach strategy, prompting the Liberal party to later reimburse the government $70,000 as part of Bonney’s salary.
NDP Leader John Horgan said the information Dix provided to the Mounties played a role in the current investigation that resulted in the new charge.
Horgan told reporters he was concerned it took three years for the special prosecutor to complete the investigation.
“It strikes me that would lead to a lack of co-operation by government, a lack of co-operation by officials in the B.C. Liberal Party,” Horgan said.
He noted the event dates back to 2012.
“It was quite an elaborate, complicated plan where public information collected by public servants was transferred to the B.C. Liberal Party,” Horgan said.
Deputy Premier Rich Coleman said the charge against Bonney is disappointing.
He dismissed Horgan’s concerns about the amount of time it took the special prosecutor to complete his report.
“That’s pretty much an out-there statement,” said Coleman. “I do find these things take a long time.”
The Criminal Justice Branch acknowledged the lengthy review in its statement, noting the breadth of the police investigation; the complexity of the related legal and evidence-gathering issues; and Criminal Code process requirements.
Bonney’s next court appearance is June 23 in Vancouver.