The B.C. government’s seven stages of damage control

by Dermod Travis,


If grief has five-stages, the B.C. government seems to have seven-stages in its damage control manual for handling everything from cringeworthy moments all the way to its “Houston, we have a problem.”

Mines minister Bill Bennett likely sits atop the Leaderboard in the political gaffe category. Think back to such pearls as comparing the environmental impact of the Mount Polley tailings dam breach to that of an avalanche.

Gaffes fade away after a few days of guffaws.

Not so with crises. The Michael Graydon affair at the B.C. Lottery Corporation qualifies.

A smile won’t suffice, someone has to do something to show seriousness of purpose. Cue finance minister Mike de Jong.

Then there are scandals. Think health ministry firings, multicultural outreach strategy and what some are calling deletegate.

They demand finesse and there’s a definite pattern to how the government goes about it.

Its damage control manual seems to come with instructions: mix and match to fit, use sparingly and only as required.

First up, send ministers out to take the heat. Citizens’ Services minister Amrik Virk already had the short straw for being first out of the gate to respond to information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report on deletegate.

If you’re the premier and the legislature is sitting, skip question period. Scandals have an odd habit of breaking when the premier is out of Victoria.

Christy Clark missed two question periods before returning to the legislature when the multicultural outreach strategy broke, acknowledging to reporters that “yes I should have come back” earlier.

If the media finds you, feign shock. Triple delete? Don’t know the term.


The multicultural outreach scandal may have elicited the most apologies from a sitting premier on a single issue in one question period.

The premier apologized not once but four times, including one “very sincere apology” and one “very, very sorry.”

Feed the hounds: throw someone under the bus.

You don’t want the scandal spreading, particularly with whistleblowers using that nasty word systemic.

Be decisive without being too decisive, and see if you can get away with in-house first.

Ask the head of the Public Service Agency to conduct a review of the Public Service Agency’s role in the health ministry firings.

If the public doesn’t buy it, go outside, but not too far outside.

You want the public to be satisfied, but not so satisfied that it could come back to slap you in the face politically.

Think Goldilocks and the Three Bears: “this porridge is too hot; this porridge is too cold; ahhh, this porridge is just right.”

Victoria labour lawyer Marcia McNeil was given free rein from the premier to talk to anyone she wanted in government in her pursuit of the human resources truth to the health ministry firings.

Just as long as she didn’t ask any questions about “health ministry policies and practices related to research, contracting and data-management, the circumstances of any privacy breach or inappropriate data access, and decisions made following the terminations in the context of settlement of grievances and legal claims.”

Questions on the weather might elicit a response.

Then it’s timing.

In February 2013, Clark asked her deputy minister, John Dyble, to conduct a review of the multicultural outreach plan to ensure that everything had been on the up and up.

It wasn’t. But in what has to be a government record for investigatory turnaround, Dyble released his report on March 14 at 11:45 a.m.

At 5:48 p.m., the Speaker rose in the legislature to announce: “This House stands adjourned until further notice.” No more question periods before the May 14 election.

As if to rub one more grain in, Dyble then administered the coup de grâce: the 10,000 pages of records his team reviewed would be released “within 60 working days.”

No one would see a redacted page until the votes were cast and counted.

This week, the government announced it had hired former privacy commissioner David Loukidelis to conduct a review of deletegate. His report is expected just in time for Christmas.

It will undoubtedly touch on all the technical aspects to the scandal, but it’s unlikely to address the most important: Liberal Research Director Jen Wizinsky’s admonishment to Tim Duncan, “you do whatever it takes to win.”

That speaks to a culture.


Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.


November 4, 2015