VICTORIA – British Columbia Liberal caucus workers who are paid to spend their days highlighting the efforts of Liberal members of the legislature were told Monday to keep their noses out of Liberal Party attack ads while on government time.
Liberal caucus spokesman Ben James said caucus workers were reminded their duties do not include doing party work during their day jobs.
James said a caucus-wide note was issued after emails surfaced indicating some members of the Liberal caucus helped produce a Liberal Party website criticizing New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix.
“We have sent out an email to all caucus staff reminding them of the correct use of caucus-funded email accounts,” he said. “All of us, meaning caucus staff, must make sure we do not cross any line and perform tasks that contravene our standards of conduct.”
James did not dispute the existence of leaked emails that indicate some caucus communications officers were helping design the anti-Dix website in August, 2011.
The Can’tAffordDix.ca website was released by the Liberal Party in October 2011, calling Dix the architect of B.C.’s economic decline during the 1990s and reminding voters he “fabricated a memo” for former NDP premier Glen Clark.
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James said Monday’s caucus-wide email stated: “If engaging in political party activities, employees must be able to retain the perception on impartiality in relation to their duties and responsibilities. Employees must not engage in political party activities during working hours or use government facilities, equipment or resources in support of these activities.”
He said what happened on the Can’tAffordDix website “is a reminder of what can happen when these lines are crossed.”
James said the people involved in the Dix website were “reproached.” He did not elaborate what reproached meant, but suggested it involved personally reminding them to save their party work for after hours.
Officials in Premier Christy Clark’s office said they are not commenting on the creation and release of the website.
NDP social development critic Carole James said the anti-Dix website and its creators reveal a government and party out of ideas as it sputters towards a May election.
She said she expects voters to punish the Liberals for their partisan behaviour at the ballot box in May.
“Of all the things the government could be spending their time and energy on and of all the things that the premier’s office could be spending their time and energy on in tough economic times, they’re focused on putting together attack websites on the NDP leader. I shake my head,” she said.
University of Victoria political scientist Jamie Lawson said government workers have fought lengthy battles to keep their jobs even though they may hold views different than the government of the day. It’s not appropriate to undertake partisan work while being employed as a public official, he said.
Lawson said B.C.’s fixed election date law, which sets an election every four years in May, may contribute somewhat to partisanship issues as parties try to get a jump on a campaign they know is approaching.
“Here we’ve got the problem of people winding up for an election that everyone knows the timing for,” he said.
The Liberal Party has designed other websites targeting Dix, including RiskyDix.ca. It also targeted B.C. Conservative Party Leader John Cummins with a Can’tTrustCummins.ca website.