VANCOUVER – A plan to win ethnic votes in British Columbia involved a “cynical purpose” with no aim to legitimately engage minority groups, says a special prosecutor at a sentencing hearing for a former Liberal party communications director.
David Butcher told provincial court Tuesday that Brian Bonney should serve a community sentence of 12 to 23 months after pleading guilty to breach of trust last October for his part in the partisan use of taxpayer resources to garner support from multicultural communities.
Butcher said Bonney provided confidential information to seven people he supervised as they worked to woo ethnic voters ahead of the 2013 election, which was won by then-premier Christy Clark’s Liberals.
“The court should send a strong and clear message to those involved in politics that breach of trust will be treated in a serious manner,” Butcher said after outlining Bonney’s decades of political involvement.
Bonney was charged in May 2016 for what was outlined as a “quick wins” strategy in a document Butcher presented in court.
He said it shows the plan went beyond simply reaching out to involve visible minorities in the political process and targeted them in about 18 swing ridings.
“The number of people from each of those communities could easily determine the outcome in each of those swing ridings,” Butcher told Judge David St. Pierre about Surrey ridings with substantial Chinese and Korean populations.
But he said the plan, which involved devising apologies for historical wrongs such as the Chinese head tax, didn’t work.
“It has backfired because when these circumstances became public some members of those communities felt that efforts to engage them were simply for cynical purposes, not legitimate purposes, and that made them more rather than less cautious about participating.”
Much of the communication between Bonney and others involved in the strategy went through personal emails, some of which the RCMP was unable to obtain as part of its investigation, Butcher said.
Butcher told the hearing then cabinet minister Harry Bloy connected with a woman who was to win over ethnic groups including the Persian community and that Bonney offered her a six-month contract she was to keep confidential.
The woman was paid through Bonney’s numbered company but the Liberal party reimbursed expenses of $2,000 and then $3,000 a month for her to work from home, Butcher said.
“I’ve never heard why the Liberal party would pay for work to be done through a numbered company rather than paying directly,” Butcher said of the “unusual situation.”
Butcher said Bonney, who worked to resolve a lengthy dispute involving payment to the woman, said to her in an email: “This is a very tricky game.”
“It’s indicating an awareness that all was not right with the process,” Butcher said.
He said Bonney helped four community liaison workers through the application process before they were hired and said to them in a September 2012 email: “Remember, you still don’t know me.”
The government cancelled the contracts in November 2012 after staff at a multicultural organization in Langley complained they were told not to invite the NDP to an event.
Butcher said the government did not sign the four workers’ contracts, only one of them was paid, and another quit, and then told police he had doubts about the government instead of the Liberal party funding the positions.
“I knew it was shady from the beginning,” Butcher said, quoting the man.
Bonney’s lawyer, Ian Donaldson, said the information his client shared with those tasked to work with ethnic groups “could be called confidential but was available to others. He shared that in appropriate circumstances for people to do their jobs properly.”
Bonney did not aim to benefit financially and his actions were not based on dishonesty or corruption, Donaldson said.
A report into the plan to win votes by the deputy minister to the premier at the time said there were two instances of misuse of government resources, including that Bonney was being paid as a government employee while he worked for the caucus and the Liberal party.
The report, released in March 2013, said at least half of Bonney’s time was spent doing work for the Liberal party, which later reimbursed the government $70,000 as part of his salary.
Clark, who left politics last year after the NDP formed government, apologized for the plan in the legislature and John Yap, the multiculturalism minister, resigned his post.
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