Proposed sign-up limit divides B.C.'s New Democrats
Some New Democrats want to limit the number of people joining their party through “paper memberships”.
Forward B.C. NDP, which formed after the party’s election loss on May 14, is proposing to restrict recruitment to 10 people a week per person. Organizer Sage Aaron told the Georgia Straight that this is in response to “questions around bulk sign-ups”.
But the idea doesn’t sit well with some New Democrats of colour, because complaints about mass sign-ups are often raised when visible minorities turn up in large numbers to vote in leadership and nomination contests.
An outraged Rey Umlas, a veteran NDP organizer, went as far as to suggest that the proposal is discriminatory.
“They’re trying to muzzle the visible minorities,” Umlas told the Straight in a phone interview.
A retired health-union representative, Umlas was the NDP government’s liaison to the Filipino community in the 1990s while Glen Clark was premier.
According to Umlas, the proposal that the group wants taken up at the party’s fall convention is a “step backward”.
“The pervasive problem that is with the party is that they think they are intellectually above anybody else,” Umlas fumed.
Forward B.C. NDP’s Aaron denied that the measure is directed at minorities.
“I don’t think that there is any desire whatsoever to create a barrier to any community that wants to participate,” Aaron told the Straight in a phone interview.
She noted that “some problems” with mass sign-ups resulted in “real distractions” when the provincial party held its 2011 leadership contest.
Interestingly, Aaron’s mother and long-time Surrey–Green Timbers MLA Sue Hammell was one of the key supporters of the winner of that race, Adrian Dix.
At the time, then leadership contestants Harry Lali and Mike Farnworth complained about the mass ethnic sign-ups made by the Dix camp.
Lali claimed that organizers from the Filipino and South Asian communities delivered loads of membership forms without attached fees, in violation of party rules.
Aaron stressed that limiting paper sign-ups to 10 per person a week is only a “small change”.
Her group is also suggesting online sign-ups with no limits. “By making these changes, we can make sure that nobody is vulnerable to any of these questions,” Aaron said.
Meanwhile, Balwant Sanghera, a former chair of the B.C. NDP’s multicultural committee, believes that restricting paper sign-ups will limit the party’s growth.
“As a party, we should reach out to all of the communities, including the Indo-Canadians, Chinese Canadians, Filipino Canadians, everybody,” Sanghera told the Straight in a phone interview.
According to Sanghera, president of the Punjabi Language Education Association, parties usually attract huge numbers of new recruits during leadership contests because
of the excitement generated by these races.
Complaints about sign-ups are nothing new to the B.C. NDP. Wendy Bales filed one with party headquarters to no avail after she found out that 121 people were on the membership lists of both the NDP and the B.C. Liberal Party in Abbotsford-Mission.
Bales, a director with the Fraser Valley Regional District, lost the B.C. NDP’s nomination to her South Asian rival Preet Rai. She ran as an independent in the last election.
She has quit the New Democrats, telling the Straight in a phone interview, “I was so frustrated.”