B.C. New Democrats are in serious crap if they can’t clean up one thing.
So says Michael Sather, former NDP MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, about mass sign-ups during leadership contests.
Once such race is currently underway, and according to Sather, it’s “just not on” to have the same situation that was observed the last time the party chose a new leader.
It’s a matter he intends to ask Craig Keating about when the B.C. NDP president pays party members in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows constituency a visit on April 4.
“If they can’t clean that up, if Craig Keating can’t clean that up, then they are really up in deep doo-doo,” Sather told the Straight by phone today (March 20).
Bulk membership drives in ethnic communities typically draw attention and controversy, and not just in the B.C. NDP.
In the 2011 leadership race, Adrian Dix faced criticism over the mass sign-ups his camp did, particularly in the South Asian and Filipino communities. He was eventually crowned the top New Democrat honcho.
Following the NDP’s defeat in last year’s provincial election, Guy Gentner, a former New Democrat MLA, spoke out and called the party “unethical”.
Among the things Gentner raised was the recruitment drive undertaken by the Dix camp during the leadership campaign.
“I would suggest to you on record that it was the Dix leadership campaign that benefited [from] these bulk sign-ups,” Gentner told the Straight by phone last summer. “I call it the SkyTrain connection: it was from Surrey all the way into town. And the problem with that…is that you have this massive sign-up that drove the leadership campaign, but they were out of tune with the rest of British Columbia. And it showed on election day.”
According to Sather, the way things are set up allows some quarters to gather the personal identification numbers assigned to new members, and use these to vote for their candidate of choice.
“It’s really bad,” Sather said.
Sather expects people identified with Dix to throw their support behind Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan.
That’s fine with Sather as long as there are no “shenanigans”—mass sign-ups—involved.
“It was Adrian’s camp that had that going last time,” Sather said.
Also following the party’s defeat in the election, one group calling itself Forward B.C. NDP suggested limiting paper sign-ups to 10 people per week for each recruiter.
According to the group’s spokesperson, Sage Aaron, there were “some problems” with mass sign-ups that resulted in “real distractions” when the party held its 2011 leadership contest
But Aaron stressed in a phone interview with the Straight last fall that Forward B.C. NDP’s proposal was not directed against ethnic minorities.
“I don’t think that there is any desire whatsoever to create a barrier to any community that wants to participate,” Aaron said at that time.
Forward B.C. NDP was supposed to bring the idea before the party’s convention in November 2013 but decided to shelve it after the proposal generated criticism.
Keating, who is concurrently a councillor with the City of North Vancouver, was elected president at that convention.
Keating is currently making the rounds with the party’s constituency associations, and he should expect to hear something about mass sign-ups from Sather.
“I’m going to ask him point blank whether they’re going to straighten that out, and if so how?” Sather said.
Sather noted that to the credit of the B.C. Liberal Party, the ruling party adopted a weighted system of voting in its last leadership race, in which constituencies were given about the same say in the outcome regardless of their membership count.
“It’s just embarrassing . . . how we trail the Liberals in some progressive things like that,” Sather said. “Let’s hope that gets cleaned up.”