B.C. Liberals accuse NDP MLA of misusing publicly funded office

A Google invite obtained by Global News advertises a gathering at MLA Bowinn Ma's office. Global News

The B.C. Liberals are accusing NDP MLA Bowinn Ma of allowing her office to be used by an outside environmental activist group for partisan activities connected to the upcoming municipal elections. But Ma says the group that booked the space, Force of Nature, filled out a form saying they would abide by the rules in place to ensure constituency offices are kept non-partisan.

Google invites obtained by Global News are titled ‘ELECTION TRAINING’ and are encouraging people to “get trained up and ready to run the most effective and exciting election campaign of all time!” The invite also mentions opportunities in the meeting to “learn about BC politics and get to know FoN teammates from all across the Lower Mainland.”

According to the Force of Nature website, the group supports issues “from fighting industrial fossil fuel projects and raising thousands of dollars for First Nation’s legal challenges, to mobilizing tens of thousands of voters in the last three elections and promoting rooftop solar energy in Metro Vancouver municipalities.”

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The group’s director, Amy Lubik, is currently running for Port Moody city council. Environmental campaigner Sven Biggs is also listed on the group’s website.

The group is non-partisan, but supports political issues that are aligned closely with the B.C. NDP and Greens and against the B.C. Liberals.

“This is simply outrageous and a serious misuse of taxpayer money,” B.C. Liberal MLA Jas Johal said.

“This isn’t just a little step across the line. The NDP are trying to influence who sits on city councils and billing it as a government expense. That’s wrong and shows how far the NDP is willing to go to achieve its activist agenda.”

Constituency offices can be used for community functions and community groups, but must remain non-partisan. Ma says she opens the office on weekends and evenings for community members, and that all groups that use her constituency office must fill out an office-use form. By filling out the form, they commit to ensuring the use of the office falls under the Legislative Assembly’s rules.

Ma said the Force of Nature group filled out the form and put down the intended use of the office was to work towards “work toward climate solutions on the North Shore.” Ma says she wasn’t aware it was being used for municipal elections and campaign activities supporting any candidates “would not conform” to the rules.

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“It is important that my community feels that their MLA’s constituency office is really their office,” Ma said. “Campaign activities related to encouraging a general increase in democratic participation or voter turnout are really important and encourage civic engagement and I personally support that. But the office cannot be used to support specific candidates.”

Ma said the first she was made aware of the group’s connection to the municipal election campaigns was when Global News shared a copy of the invites with her. She said she spoke to the organizer on Saturday, and her impression was that they were not going to endorse candidates and they were interested in increasing civic engagement.

But Ma said there is a “very thin line” around these rules and it is unclear whether any was crossed. The incident has led to Ma making changes to her office-use policy, and she will now be restricting any activities related to the municipal election.

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“Force of Nature understands that and they will be cancelling all their bookings with us until after the municipal elections,” she said.

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“I’m unsure of the exact nature of this organization’s activities so far. It is likely that the further use of the space would not conform to our regulations if they intended to endorse or campaign for candidates.”

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