John Yap takes the fall in Liberal’s ethnic vote scandal
Richmond-Steveston MLA John Yap said Tuesday parliamentary tradition prompted him to resign from cabinet, as furor continued over a leaked memo promising “quick wins” with ethnic communities.
“There is a parliamentary tradition when a ministry is under investigation, then the minister of the Crown steps aside until that investigation is complete and any allegations are cleared,” he said in an interview.
Yap stepped aside Monday from his duties as the Liberal government’s advanced education and multiculturalism minister pending the outcome of an investigation into government conduct on outreach to ethnic communities.
B.C. Liberal MLAs held an extended caucus meeting Monday to deal with the fallout from a leaked memo describing the use of government resources to boost the party’s popularity with ethnic communities.
One disputed point is a plan to apologize in the legislature this month for the head tax on Chinese immigrants, imposed by Ottawa from 1885 to 1935. Such apologies are proposed in the strategy memo as “quick wins” before the May 14 provincial election.
The NDP released another document Monday, a December 2011 spreadsheet describing a meeting to “target swing ridings” and “target ethnicities” including Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese.
The documents, which originated before Yap was appointed minister of multiculturalism, contain language, ideas and suggestions that are “clearly unacceptable and inappropriate,” Yap told The Richmond Review. He said Premier Christy Clark delivered a heartfelt apology on the “whole sordid matter,” which isn’t a true reflection of his government.
“That does not reflect what we believe and what we do in government. For myself personally I expect that the investigation will clear the allegations.”
Those close to the local MLA have reacted with shock and some regret, but Yap said he’s also been heartened by support he’s received.
Some critics suggested an apology for the Chinese head tax would now appear hollow, but Yap—who has been working on the issue for several months—believes an apology is still the right thing to do. But he acknowledges the timing, with an election in May, is unfortunate.
“I do appreciate that leaked document contained references to things like quick wins, which is clearly cynical and something that I personally completely reject,” he said. “I still believe (an apology) is the right thing to do, but it will be up to my colleagues to decide on balance whether we proceed with the apology now or wait until after the election.”
Richmond school trustee Eric Yung said he has no doubt Yap will be exonerated, but said the government is sending a mixed message by having one of its most prominent ethnic MLAs step aside while attempting to prove the documents aren’t representative of the party.
“At the time the minister was Harry Bloy. The memo seems to come out of the premier’s office. I can understand the need to appear impartial, but I don’t think it was the right guy or the right call.”
The ethnic votes scandal was the last straw for the vice-president of the Surrey-Tynehead B.C. Liberal Riding Association James Plett, who resigned last Friday. In a blog post Monday, Plett said Yap’s decision showed “an unusual level of personal dignity and honour, and a great deal of respect for the parliamentary system.”
“John Yap had nothing to do with ‘quick wins,’ and, more to the point, John Yap is clearly being scapegoated by the Clark government,” he wrote.
Clark has already accepted the resignation of her longtime assistant Kim Haakstad, who distributed the ethnic voter plan to party and government staff via their personal e-mail addresses.
Haakstad, Clark’s deputy chief of staff, and “outreach” staff from the premier’s office are subject to an internal investigation ordered by Clark. John Dyble, head of the public service, is to examine whether government resources were used to help deliver ethnic votes to the B.C. Liberal Party.
The January 2012 draft strategy memo, leaked to the NDP, discusses ways to improve the governing party’s popularity with immigrant communities, including recruiting new members and spokespeople to call and write to ethnic media outlets.
—with files from Tom Fletcher