Some B.C. Liberal supporters didn’t play fair in last month’s provincial election, a New Democrat is alleging.
Gabriel Yiu claims that the Better B.C. Coalition disseminated advertising materials targeting Chinese voters that contained untruthful information, such as stating that the NDP favours legalizing marijuana.
“This kind of dirty tricks needs to be condemned and exposed,” Yiu told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
Alice Tang, a spokesperson for the Richmond-based Better B.C. Coalition group, denied the accusation levelled by Yiu, a defeated candidate in Vancouver-Fraserview. Tang maintained that her group thoroughly researched the claims it used to encourage Chinese voters to go B.C. Liberal in the May 14 election, which the New Democrats lost.
“I don’t think he [Yiu] should blame anybody for his own failure or for the failure of the NDP,” Tang told the Straight by phone.
The Better B.C. Coalition is one of many organizations and individuals registered with Elections B.C. as a third-party advertising sponsor. The Election Act allows groups and individuals other than political parties, candidates, constituency associations, and financial agents of parties and candidates to put out election-related messages to the public.
According to Yiu, the Better B.C. Coalition took out an ad in the Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao, circulated fliers, and passed around a poster by email that misrepresented his party’s stance on marijuana, natural-gas exports, and taxes.
According to the English translation provided by Yiu of the Chinese-language materials, New Democrats “comprehensively” support the legalization of marijuana. Wondering if this will lead to cannabis being sold “publicly” in schools, they asked provocatively: “What would happen to our kids?”
But the suggestion that the NDP will allow children to face harm because it supposedly supports marijuana legalization is “totally ridiculous”, Yiu said.
Yiu said that while B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix has expressed support for the decriminalization of the possession of marijuana, this is different from legalization, which involves the regulation and taxation of the sale and distribution of cannabis.
Noting that many members of the Chinese community are strongly opposed to illegal drugs, Yiu remarked that he’s heard some have said they support the B.C. Liberals out of a concern that the NDP would legalize pot.
The material released by the Better B.C. Coalition also claimed that the New Democrats would stop plans to export natural gas to China, “seriously damaging Canada’s national interest and Sino-Canada trade”.
That’s also not true, Yiu said. In its election platform, the B.C. NDP pledged to support the development of a liquefied-natural-gas industry geared for exports to Asia.
The coalition likewise warned voters that New Democrats would tax businesses even before they made a profit. But according to Yiu, he and Vancouver–Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan clearly stated in an April 23 media release that the B.C. NDP would not bring in a general corporate capital tax.
Yiu didn’t take issue with other statements made by the group, which included the infamous backdating of a memo by Dix when he was chief of staff of then–B.C. NDP premier Glen Clark during the 1990s.
Tang countered that her group stands by the information it disseminated to Chinese voters.
“[The] Better B.C. Coalition painstakingly researched our topics of interest and relevance to the Chinese community and delineated positions that are well published and readily available,” she said.
According to Tang, her organization is composed of “ordinary citizens”. They’re mostly, but not exclusively, Chinese Canadians who gather every now and then to discuss social issues. “It’s a small ethnic group,” she said.
Section 266 of the Election Act stipulates that an individual or organization commits an offence by providing “false or misleading information when required or authorized under this Act to provide information”. Nola Western, deputy chief electoral officer with Elections B.C., explained that the law requires truthful information with respect only to names, addresses, birth dates, phone numbers, and financial reports.
“The content of the advertisement and whether that content is accurate or not is not part of what is contemplated by Section 266,” Western told the Straight in a phone interview. “The content of the advertisement is not required or authorized by the Election Act.”
If the Better B.C. Coalition provided Elections B.C. with an incorrect name or address when the group registered to be a third-party advertiser, then the organization would possibly be in trouble. “But the fact that they’re allegedly misrepresenting the NDP is not an issue for the Election Act,” Western said.
That’s a loophole in the legislation that needs to be rectified, Yiu asserted. Otherwise, he warned, untruthful advertising, especially directed at specific ethnic groups, will happen again and again.
If this sounds familiar, it’s not surprising. Yiu was the New Democrat candidate in Vancouver-Fraserview in the 2009 election when pamphlets were mailed to Chinese voters by workers for then–B.C. Liberal candidate Kash Heed. The printed materials falsely accused the B.C. NDP of planning to legalize heroin and cocaine and institute an inheritance tax.
“It’s like déjà vu,” Yiu said.
Heed won in 2009 election but later faced an investigation for not reporting the cost of the fliers. He was eventually fined for exceeding campaign spending limits but kept his seat.