Life outside the B.C. NDP caucus is quite liberating for Guy Gentner.
“I’m no longer MLA, and I can say things maybe I couldn’t or was reluctant to speak about before,” the former Delta North representative told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
“Things” like the party has become “unethical”.
Gentner didn’t run for a third term this year despite polling numbers indicating that the B.C. NDP would likely win the May 14 election. As it turned out, the B.C. NDP blew its lead and lost the election.
As the NDP undertakes a review of the debacle, he wants the party “to take a very close look at itself”. “The problem is the party itself,” Gentner said. “There’s something wrong at the core.”
Putting it more bluntly, the ex-MLA declared: “The party lacks integrity.”
During the election campaign, the B.C. NDP chose not to hammer the B.C. Liberal party for its record and may have lost because of that decision. Gentner suggested that there’s a reason the NDP didn’t go into attack mode. “The whole issue of ethics during this election campaign was muted because the NDP itself has problems in that department,” he said.
B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix didn’t make himself available for comment. Instead, his office asked MLA Mable Elmore to respond to the statements made by Gentner.
“He’s off base,” Elmore said in dismissing her former caucus colleague’s opinion during a phone interview with the Straight. She added that it’s “pretty shocking” for him to be making such criticisms.
However, the MLA for Vancouver-Kensington acknowledged that there is a great deal of disappointment and anger about the election loss and suggested that Gentner is reflecting those sentiments.
“He’s certainly free and also welcome to bring his views forward and submit them to the review,” Elmore said.
According to Gentner, the party’s problem with ethics goes right to the top. “The issue of the election was based on ethics and was based on the fact that we have a leader that had one faux pas,” he said, referring to Dix’s 1999 memo-backdating controversy during his time as chief of staff to then-premier Glen Clark.
“Meanwhile,” Gentner continued, “the Liberals were riddled with scandal and we didn’t take the opportunity to remind the populace about their 12-year record. And the reason being is we were worried about, you know, the tension it would create on reminding the voters about Mr. Dix’s problems in the ’90s. So we tried to avoid it.”
But it wasn’t only the 1990s, according to Gentner. He also went back to the party’s 2011 leadership contest, in which contenders Harry Lali and Mike Farnworth questioned Dix’s mass recruitment
“I would suggest to you on record that it was the Dix leadership campaign that benefited [from] these bulk sign-ups,” Gentner said. “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.”
Gentner related that in Delta North, 960 people supposedly joined the NDP for the leadership vote. But, he said, many of them were not even aware of it. Worse, 320 of them were also members of the B.C. Liberal party. Gentner also claimed that he found out about one person who held the personal identification numbers of 85 people, allowing that individual to vote that many times.
As far as Gentner is concerned, the leadership campaign was “totally tainted”.
“I ought to tell you that’s one of the main reasons I didn’t run in this election,” he said. “Because when I went door-to-door and saw what was going on during the leadership campaign, I decided that this was an unethical party. It wasn’t the party I belonged to.”
Gentner supported Farnworth for leader, while Elmore backed Dix. Elmore said she’s surprised that Gentner is raising matters related to the 2011 leadership race. She noted that all the contestants recruited a good number of people, and there was a “recognized process in terms of members signing up”.
“People wanted to participate, to get involved in the process, to have a voice and play a role,” Elmore said.
Gentner next spoke about the party’s provincial executive. Citing in particular B.C. NDP president Moe Sihota, the former MLA said the entire executive should step aside in order to allow critical thinking inside the NDP.
Gentner claimed that a group identified with Sihota controls the party executive.
“They made the decisions, and this is the result of it,” he maintained. “The NDP can only work with critical thinking within itself, and without it, it became lax and overlooked a lot of systemic problems. I’m hopeful that will change in November, when the [party] convention comes.”
According to Gentner, the NDP needs to be transparent, open to debate, and connected back to the grassroots membership.
“And it’s not going to do it if the same group of people who’ve been there for years and years and years—the apparatchiks—continue to run that show,” he said.
The B.C. NDP headquarters didn’t make a spokesperson available to comment on the ex-MLA’s claims before deadline.
Gentner asserted that unless the party cleans itself up, “it is going to run in the same dirt the Liberals are running in today.”
Saying that he remains a committed New Democrat, he posed this challenge to the faithful: “Let’s get some integrity going in the party.”