Martyn Brown: Anjali Appadurai’s “Operation Solidarity” leadership campaign could really rattle the NDP’s cage

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      B.C. NDP leadership challenger Anjali Appadurai might be a long shot to beat current runaway favourite front runner, David Eby, in the contest to replace John Horgan as B.C. premier and party leader. But she’s hell-bent on giving it her best shot.

      As I said in my previous piece, she’s bound to pack a punch in this NDP leadership prize fight.

      And how.

      Yesterday (Aug. 12), the bargaining committee representing 33,000 members of the BC General Employees' Union (BCGEU) who work for the provincial government issued 72-hours’ strike notice.

      Only a few hours later, Appadurai issued this tweet, drawing a line in the sand to leave no doubt where she stands.

      She’s on the public servants’ side—not the government’s.

      Look out. Here comes double trouble for Horgan, Eby, and the 48 of 55 other NDP government caucus members who support him as their preferred choice as B.C.’s next premier.

      She’s on the move and landing wollops that won’t be shaken off any time soon by her party’s government.

      “My solidarity is with BC's public service workers. I’ll see you on the picket line.”

      Wow. Just wow.

      If you thought that Appadurai’s opening salvo was a mind-blowing attack on her own NDP government, her Round Two assault was even more deadly.

      Just when we all thought that Eby had this fight in the bag, she wants us all to know, she’s not in it to take a dive or to leave him or his government unbloodied.

      Never would I have expected any leadership contender to go as far as she already has in sending her own party’s establishment forces reeling.

      Like Mike Tyson famously said in response to be asked whether he was worried about going toe-to-toe with Evander Holyfield, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

      Indeed, both Eby and Horgan might suddenly have new cause for concern.

      If even a fraction of those 33,000 BCGEU members really wanted to put the fear of God in him and his government, they could sign onto Appadurai’s campaign before the September 4 cut-off date for new NDP members to be eligible voters in the leadership election.

      On top of the instant surge in membership that she might stand to garner from her friends and fans in in the environmental movement, just imagine what could happen if even a tiny portion of B.C.’s nearly 400,000 unionized public sector employees really wanted to rock Eby’s boat.

      According to Appadurai’s political allies at Dogwood, “the BC NDP dwindled from 20,000 to 11,000 under Horgan’s leadership” and “There’s no guarantee that those who remain will vote for David Eby.”

      It wouldn’t take many new NDP members to upset the apple cart.

      And many of those existing members are presumably members of public sector unions either soon to be on strike, or potentially facing future strike action in negotiating their contracts this year.

      That includes registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and pretty much all those public sector union employees who work alongside them in B.C.’s imploding health-care system.

      And they’re mad as hell at being ignored by the government on COVID, understaffing, underfunding, and inadequate pay levels.

      Add in the teachers and countless others in education and other unionized public sectors who feel equally aggrieved at having their pay levels and legitimate COVID concerns basically ignored by the Horgan government, and it could conceivably lead to a rapid rise in NDP membership all aligned behind Appadurai.

      To say nothing of family doctors, if they also wanted to gain an immediate stake in the game.

      By standing with the BCGEU and likely other unionized public servants on the picket lines and at those bargaining tables, Appadurai is effectively trying to set in motion a new Operation Solidarity, of sorts, with her as its ultimate potential champion in government.

      “Our members have been crystal clear since day one that their priority this round of bargaining was cost of living protection for their wages,” the BCGEU’s president and public service bargaining committee chair said.

      “The bottom line is they’re not asking for anything that MLAs don’t already have. The strike vote in June [with 95 per cent support] and issuing strike notice today is a message to government that our members are serious.”

      Unsurprisingly, the BCGEU has rejected the government’s most recent reported offer of a 9.99 percent pay hike over three years.

      And all of the other unions will obviously be equally set on securing the cost-of-living-adjustment in their new contracts that the BCGEU is demanding in the face of inflation currently running at 7.9 percent on a year-to-year basis alone in B.C.

      Plus, just last February, the NDP cabinet ministers all chose to give themselves a de facto 10 percent pay hike on the portion of the portion of their salary that relates to their ministerial roles. Which had been previously withheld from them and their predecessors by the B.C. Liberals’ rules, whenever the government is running deficits.

      For the premier, that represents an extra $10,000 annually on his $100,000 cabinet-related portion of his total salary of $211,000 a year.

      His ministers got an extra $5,600 annually on the $56,000 cabinet-related portion of their $167,000 salary that also includes the $111,000 salary paid to all members of the legislature.

      Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

      Still, Appadurai seems to have no compunction about siding with the BCGEU and presumably all unionized public sector employee’s wage demands, the cost be damned.

      And it ain’t chicken feed, let me tell you.

      The finance ministry estimates that every one percentage point increase in compensation for all of those unionized public servants would cost about $310 million annually.

      At current inflation rates, eight times that would obviously cost B.C. taxpayers $2.48 billion dollars extra each year.

      It’s a shitload of money. Especially considering the government has only budgeted a total $368 million for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy this year and the government’s total budget is $68.5 billion.

      Nevertheless, if Appadurai really goes to bat in physically also supporting the BCGEU’s strike action as her tweet seems to suggest she will, the NDP won’t know what hit them.

      Imagine if she did win, by some miracle, after taking her fight to the unions’ wage-battle frontlines?

      With nearly the entire NDP caucus now backing Eby, how would it react?

      Technically, Eby’s 49 presumed supportive votes in the legislature, counting his own, represents a solid majority of the legislature’s 87 total members: enough to command confidence in our system of responsible government.

      How would Appadurai propose to get them all on-side, if she ever was successful in her no-holds-barred campaign?

      Might the party conceivably even opt to disqualify her candidacy if things really got too internally hot, if she goes full-bore in intervening on the public sector unions’ behalf as the strike action(s) unfold?

      Hard to imagine, but not totally beyond the pale, perhaps, if Appadurai goes gun-blazing down that road, without regard for the implications of her actions.

      Like I also said, get out the popcorn because it will be fun and fascinating to watch.

      Meanwhile, don’t forget, Evander Holyfield eventually won that Tyson fight, so Eby probably ain’t a-scared of nuttin’.

      His strategy seems to be working just fine, thank you very much.

      And Appadurai’s radical approach should actually serve to help him in the long run.

      But she’s on a tear and it sure looks like things could get very messy before the final winner is decided.

      At 31, with absolutely nothing to lose, she’s already really shaken up this formerly sleepy leadership race-that-wasn’t. And I, for one, can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

      Who knows, her leadership bid and the BCGEU strike could also have an impact on the just-announced Surrey South by-election, now set for Saturday, September 10.

      The deadline to request a vote-by-mail package is Sept. 4—same deadline as for new NDP members to be eligible to vote in the party’s leadership election.

      Some Surrey South residents supportive of the BCGEU cause and Appadurai’s leadership effort might consider participating in both elections as a two-for-one package.

      One that could give her yet another last-minute boost and perhaps unfairly punish Horgan’s NDP candidate Pauline Greaves, with angry BCGEU members living in that riding wanting to send him and Eby a message.

      That could stand to benefit both the B.C. Green candidate, Simran Sarai, and B.C. Liberal candidate Elenore Sturko, the one most likely to win that seat vacated by former B.C. Liberal MLA Stephanie Cadeiux.

      Anyway, given Appadurai’s aggressive efforts to ensure her leadership bid simply can’t be ignored by NDP environmentalists or public sector union members alike, no one can say she isn’t a fighter. And a damn tough one at that.

      Indeed, I thought of her when I read this quote in today’s Guardian following the vicious attack on famed writer Salman Rushdie. He said this in a recent article originally posted in the German publication Stern:

      “I believe something very good is happening in the young generation: it is much more inclined to activism. We are seeing a generation grow of age that we urgently need right now, a combative one. We need people who can organize themselves, and people who are prepared to fight. Fighters. For a society worth living in. Instead of hoping things turn out for the best.”

      No matter what you think of her politics, tactics, priorities or policy prescriptions, Appadurai has already proven in no uncertain terms that she’s one of those fighters for progressive change.

      To some, she might seem like a relative lightweight compared to Eby. But don’t kid yourself: she’s a heavyweight in her own right, no matter how diminutive she looks.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at