Martyn Brown: Baldrey vs. Appadurai—he’s baffled by her aggressively progressive NDP leadership campaign

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      NDP leadership hopeful Anjali Appadurai has discovered that it doesn’t take much to set Global News reporter Keith Baldrey’s hair on fire.

      All she has to do is stand up for what she believes in: urgent climate action, fair wages for unionized public sector workers, and radically progressive government.

      And post three tweets that confirm she’s in the race to seriously challenge the status quo.

      Including this one of her announcement video, this one of her stated unequivocal solidarity with the BCGEU, and this one of her on the picket lines, yesterday (Aug. 17). 

      Which prompted this response from the legislative press gallery’s Establishment apologist-in-chief.

      Baldrey is baffled by Appadurai’s leadership campaign strategy and tactics.

      For the life of him, he can’t figure out why she’s not following frontrunner David Eby’s safely mainstream footsteps in singing the Horgan government’s praises.

      Why isn’t she on his same intentionally ignorable page, in firmly positioning the NDP as B.C.’s true-blue liberal party in all but name?

      Maybe, just maybe, because she wants the NDP to do better and to be better.

      First, contrary to what Baldrey suggests, Appadurai is not “running AGAINST the party” she seeks to lead.

      She is running to reclaim it as the force for progressive change that once defined the NDP in the first place, long before it morphed into the business-as-usual party it now is, having tilted ever further to the center-right under Horgan’s tenure.

      So much so, in fact, that most of his government’s policies are now being echoed by Kevin Falcon’s conservatives, who all want to abandon their B.C. Liberal label.

      Second, Appadurai’s is mostly running for her party to more boldly own and assert its own progressive raison d’être and founding values.

      Indeed, it’s the NDP itself that now seems so ashamed of what it now represents, it won’t even post its own Constitution, policies or principles on its party website, as I noted in my last article.

      Third, Baldrey entirely misses her point.

      She’s running to replace Horgan as party leader and premier, not to mirror his example, but rather, to practise in government what he and his party used to preach in opposition.

      Including combatting climate change like the emergency threat it is to humanity and our planet.

      And standing in solidarity with unionized public-sector employees in their fight for fairer wages and better working conditions.

      And using government levers to help redistribute more wealth from rich to poor, enhance crucial public services, and address economic inequities that are gravely compounding families’ affordability and inflation-related challenges.

      Nowhere more so than with respect to affordable housing, homelessness, and the wholesale abandonment of the disenfranchised working poor and unemployed.

      To say nothing of the crises in health care, mental health, and drug and alcohol addictions and more. All those problems have grown worse from a lack of determined government action and adequate public planning and investment.

      The B.C. NDP caucus under Premier John Horgan appears to be quite comfortable with the party's drift to the right.

      Public servants and the climate-conscious can make waves

      That’s just scratching the surface of Appadurai’s “radical” wish list for NDP renewal in government, uncomfortable as it is for the government MLAs who would rather she not rock their comfortable boat quite so forcefully.

      Fourth, the “very, very small room” of voters that Baldrey suggests she’s targeting in her leadership bid is not the general public, as such.

      Rather, it’s the incredibly large universe of nearly 400,000 unionized public sector workers, countless thousands of climate-conscious citizens, and untold thousands of disaffected New Democrats whom she hopes will actively support her agenda for real change.

      For Appadurai, Job One is motivating thousands of them to join the NDP or renew their lapsed membership before the September 4 cut-off for them to be eligible to vote in the leadership election, now scheduled to run from November 13 to December 3.

      Without those new and renewed members, Appadurai’s leadership campaign is surely destined to fail, as Baldrey implicitly suggests it should.

      Evidently, he feels that Eby would be the NDP government’s best hope for re-election.

      Can’t say that I disagree with him on that point.

      Eby’s more centrist stance is probably more comfortable for most B.C. voters, as it certainly is for the 48 of 55 NDP MLAs excluding Horgan and himself who support him as leader and premier.

      Whether or not that’s the case is perhaps debatable. Appadurai sure hopes to persuade her party’s eligible voters that her path is the more fertile one for the NDP’s supposed core beliefs and values.

      Win or lose, she’s mainly running to force that uncomfortable debate about the need for progressive change on all of those fronts.

      If only to oblige Eby and his government to get more progressive, particularly in winning back the hearts and minds of younger voters.

      Because, as she put it, “The system is unravelling. We all feel it. And our government’s priorities are completely backward.”

      “They tell us that sweeping and transformative changes aren’t possible. They tell us that the only thing we can do is tinker around the edges and make incremental change. But I don’t believe them. And that’s why I am running to be the leader of the B.C. NDP.”

      “We are seeing a whole generation of young people who don’t feel they have hope in this government and electoral politics in general.” 

      Sorry, Keith, but Appadurai’s not wrong on any of those points.

      And I, for one, applaud her for having the courage of conviction to not sugar-coat that fact or her prescriptions for proudly radical reform.

      Although I also agree with Baldrey’s contention that “Her candidacy is a gift to Eby. He can now pivot to the Center, where power lies.”

      Indeed, I said as much in my other articles on this subject.

      But that misses the real point of Appadurai’s intentionally provocative campaign.

      She is in it to make waves, not to glide along the smooth waters of least resistance.

      She is in it to alter the shape of things to come, as I expect she will, even if Eby prevails as expected.

      Whatever she says or does in this campaign will oblige him to respond. Which is also the point.

      That’s a huge service to the NDP and anyone who is tired of politicians beating around the bush with vanilla-fudge platitudes that mostly serve to preserve the status quo, often for worse.

      I can’t wait for the two leadership debates that the NDP has committed to hold, after it has confirmed who will actually be on the ballots as leadership candidates.

      There might be more contenders yet, before the September 4 deadline for candidates to file their completed nomination packages.

      Particularly, if the NDP brass want to dilute the force of Appadurai’s arguments, with more participants who will reduce the time available for her in the debates to hold the floor in commanding public attention.

      I’ll bet some inside the NDP are now scouring the membership thinking of who else they might encourage to run in distracting from her limelight.

      Regardless, if she only ran a typical campaign that dares not challenge or criticize her party’s record in government, as Baldrey might advise, she would surely be toast.

      She wouldn’t be remotely competitive in this NDP leadership contest, given how the party has stacked the rules against her and any other potential outsider challenger.

      My guess is, all the party really ever wanted was a hollow show of democracy with a “contest” that is intrinsically skewed to frustrate its own ostensible ends.

      And what about Appadurai’s solidarity with unionized public-sector workers?

      Including her physical show of support on the picket lines for the BCGEU’s efforts to secure a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for its members at the collective bargaining table?

      Which she reinforced in an interview clip on tonight’s Global News Hour (Aug. 18, at the 5:35 marker.)

      More power to her, I say.

      A position that uniquely experienced political analyst Norman Spector also seems to share.

      COLA for MLAs but not for public-sector workers?

      In no way is that a conflict of interest for anyone in her position. Let’s be clear about that.

      It could well be for Eby, who was still in cabinet when it approved the government’s current bargaining mandate and offers.

      But not for her, as someone who is not in the government and who is actually running for the NDP leadership in part to change government policy as B.C.’s next premier.

      Appadurai is entirely on solid ground in actively embracing a COLA clause, to protect all public-sector workers from the prospect of a de facto pay cut, net of inflation.

      That COLA would only mirror the protection now guaranteed to all MLAs, whose own salaries are automatically lifted each year with inflationary adjustments.

      Radical? Hardly.

      Costly, no doubt, but not unreasonable. Or even necessarily unaffordable. Especially if Appadurai is also committed to introducing some form of wealth tax as premier.

      Read my last article in this forum. It might help put that specific wage demand in factual perspective.

      Baldrey might think a COLA is unreasonable, given that finance officials now peg the cost of every one percent increase in public sector wages at about $310 million.

      Is it a winning political platform for the NDP in the next provincial election?

      Maybe not, though I’m not sure it would be a big political loser either by the time that next vote rolls around.

      Fact is, most taxpayers these days don’t much care about the size of government deficits.

      Especially those in the NDP’s target voter universe. They are much more concerned about issues like the collapse of B.C.’s public health-care system, or the housing crisis, or what is not being done to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

      In light of the fierce competition for skilled workers across the economy, it’s arguably a false economy to continue underpaying all those desperately needed employees we should hope to attract and retain.

      We’re already losing nurses nurses, other health-care workers, teachers, and so many essential service workers by the bucket load.

      The NDP of all parties should understand that, however Baldrey might try to dismiss that wage-related problem with bully-boy tweets that made me chuckle in recalling his roots in the early 1980s Solidarity movement.

      Finally, his contention that Appadurai’s anti-establishment leadership is somehow unprecedented in recent memory is too funny for words.

      I guess he missed Val Litwin’s and Ellis Ross’s leadership appeals from opposite sides of the B.C. Liberal political spectrum in their failed efforts to win the job Kevin Falcon now holds.

      Both were very critical of their party’s status quo, as was Falcon himself, albeit without quite the same forcefulness as Appadurai. Least of all on behalf of union workers.

      Christy Clark also largely ran against the Campbell government’s policies in her successful outsider campaign.

      True enough, Baldrey didn’t cover Alberta’s successive United Conservative leadership campaigns, but they all had their own current or former government as its chief target.

      And don’t get me started on what has transpired south of the border.

      Anjali Appadurai's campaign for B.C. NDP hearts and minds has some things in common with Bernie Sanders's strategy in trying to win the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

      Insurgent leadership campaigns are nothing new

      Who is the model for Appadurai’s campaign strategy and tactics?

      I’d suggest, it’s really Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and their Green New Deal backers in the Democratic Party’s infamous progressive “Squad” of would-be reformers.

      They all campaigned against their now current president’s status quo candidacy. And equally, against Hilary Clinton’s do-nothing approach to climate and equality imperatives.

      Of course, Trump’s entire Republican leadership campaign and two presidential runs were also defined by their attacks on his own party and its former presidents and governments.

      To a certain extent, even Glen Clark won his NDP leadership campaign by campaigning against Mike Harcourt’s milquetoast premiership.

      To say nothing of lesser lights' efforts, like Dana Larsen’s spectacularly unsuccessful 2011 NDP leadership bid.

      Bottom line is this: Appadurai’s campaign is a welcome breath of fresh air.

      One that should make us all think about what we should really hope for and expect from a party leadership campaign.

      If now’s not the time to challenge convention and stand up for age-old party principles that have fallen victim to political expediency, when is?

      If candidates like her are marginalized by the likes of B.C.’s most influential political reporter, should we be surprised that so many young people can’t identify with their political leaders?

      I don’t agree with lots of her positions, but I am impressed as hell at her fighting spirit.

      Let me close by repeating these poignant words I previously cited from Salman Rushdie:

      “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.”

      Hear, hear.

      Keep fighting, Anjali, and don’t worry about Baldrey or his ilk.


      Keith Baldrey responded to this article over Twitter by insisting that he's not "baffled" by Anjali Appadurai's position.

      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