British Columbia

Environmental group accused of using NDP MLA's constituency office to endorse candidates

Force of Nature says it did not break partisan rules by using Bowinn Ma's North Vancouver office for a meeting about civic engagement, despite the B.C. Liberals' allegations that it did.

Force of Nature says it didn't break partisan rules at meeting but apologizes to Bowinn Ma for lack of details

Bowinn Ma poses for a photo in her North Vancouver constituency office, where she welcomes community groups. (Bowinn Ma/Twitter)

An environmental group has apologized for any perception of rule-breaking after it was alleged to have inappropriately used the office of a B.C. NDP MLA.

On Sunday the B.C. Liberals said in a media release that Force of Nature used Bowinn Ma's North Vancouver constituency​ office to endorse specific candidates in local elections.

Under Legislative Assembly of B.C. rules, constituency offices can be used as meeting places but "must be operated on a strictly non-partisan basis and cannot be used to engage in or host partisan, political activities."

"This is the latest example of how the B.C. NDP believe it is their job to be activists, instead of focusing on governing," said Richmond-Queensborough MLA Jas Johal in the B.C. Liberals release.

Force of Nature managing director Katie Harrison confirms the group did hold a meeting at the office during the first week of September to train volunteers to help promote voter turnout and make sure climate is a central issue in this fall's civic elections.

Harrison says Force of Nature has a mandate to help municipalities transition to become more climate friendly

'Completely non-partisan'

"It was a completely non-partisan event and and it did not involve any campaigning, nor was it related to the promotion of any candidates," said Harris.

She says the organization is apologizing for not providing enough detail to Ma and her staff about the group's activities at the meeting.

People who use the the space must fill out an application stating their intended use and that they will abide by the rules and regulations set out by the Legislative Assembly of B.C.

'Full responsibility'

In a lengthy response on Twitter, Ma says the group's application didn't raise any concerns because it said the space was being used to "host a community group working on climate solutions for on the North Shore."

She said that she learned through the media that the group was hosting events related to civic elections.

"While political engagement is incredibly important, it is nevertheless also important that public resources not be used to benefit the electoral success of specific candidates," she wrote.

Harris says Force of Nature should have been clearer on its application.

"We take absolute full responsibility for this problem," said Harris. "We take full responsibility for the confusion and we should have been careful about that and we should have clarified more."

Open and welcoming

Ma says she has made it a priority to open up her office to groups, and has even added a children's play area and a comfortable space for mothers to breastfeed.

Both Ma and Force of Nature say the group will suspend using the space until the civic elections are over as the group has since endorsed candidates, according to Ma.

Ma says she has also updated her office rental policy to be more clear about what is expected.

The Officer of the B.C. Ombudsperson says the inappropriate use of MLA constituency offices is not something it has investigated in the past.

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