Indo-Canadian political organizer will be on government payroll

Prem Vinning, a veteran Indo-Canadian political organizer, has been hired as the director of Asia-Pacific trade and economic development in the premier's office - less than four months before an election, Public Eye has exclusively learned. But Mr. Vinning says his job doesn't involve doing any electioneering for the Liberals, although he may be helping out on the campaign trail.

In an interview, Mr. Vinning confirmed he was hired on Monday saying, "The premier has been very open about where we need to go as a province and a country. The two biggest economies in the world today are China and India. The largest working class is in India - out of the entire world. And with the trade issues that we've been having with our good friends next door - softwood, steel, cattle - the premier sees it that we need to diversify" our trade links. And that means encouraging local politicians and businesses to think about trading with Asia, and getting Asians to think about trading with British Columbia.

But Mr. Vinning isn't the only one working on that file. When Public Eye phoned the intergovernmental relations secretariat today and asked who was responsible for Asia-Pacific trade and economic development, we were told international relations director Sukumar Periwal was doing that job.

Mr. Vinning said he hasn't yet been in contact with Mr. Periwal. When asked what his qualifications for the position were, Mr. Vinning joked, "You'll have to ask the premier that question. I think highly of myself. My mother thinks I'm a great guy."

He then added "I have a business background," being the part-owner of Jackpine Forest Products Ltd. "I've been on city hall as a councillor and I've been involved in the political process of this province and somewhat federally too. I understand the intricacies and workings of government. And I come from the Asia-Pacific. And so I think that gives me an ability to relate to countries. And my language skills, I think, would be an asset." He also pointed out he's been involved with an initiative to build Gurward temples across the province, along with his brothers and his late father.

But most of his headlines have been as a federal Liberal operative. Mr. Vinning was considered the Grit's lead British Columbia Indo-Canadian organizer up until to 2000, when he was shutout by the Martinites. He also ran for the Liberals in Surrey North during the 1993 election and was once touted as a possible candidate for Sentate.

However, despite that political background and his past appearance at meetings to discuss improving the provincial Liberal's relationship with the Indo-Canadian community, Mr. Vinning denied his new job would involve doing any electioneering on behalf of the Campbell administration.

"My focus is going to be on the job...talking to the communities about opportunities in India and China and I'll be spending some time with (Minister of State for Immigration and Multiculturalism) Patrick Wong with the Chinese community," said Mr. Vinning. But he did say he would likely be helping the Liberals during the next election. Mr. Vinning denied his new job had anything to do with that work.

In the past, the premier has been caught in a similar situation where it appeared he was using the privileges of a taxpayer-funded office to further his own political ambitions.

In 1993, the Vancouver Sun's Jeff Lee reported the then Vancouver mayor admitted his city hall executive assistant Janet Fraser and communications officer Muriel Honey were working on his provincial Liberal leadership campaign - although he said they were using their holidays and time off to do so.

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