Martyn Brown: Will David Eby’s expected coronation as NDP leader devolve into a red wedding? Let’s hope not

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      Update: Finance Minister Selina Robinson and Land, Water, and Resource Stewardship Minister Josie Osborne each announced on July 18 that they will not be seeking the B.C. NDP leadership. 

      Smart moves...

      Original article

      In my last article on this subject, I wrote that the B.C. NDP leadership “contest” seems tailor-made for one candidate: runaway favourite Attorney General David Eby.

      I characterized it as a race-that-isn’t, “designed to discourage outsiders and dark horses, and destined to thwart its own ostensible democratic purpose”.

      That’s probably even more true today, now that the party has officially launched the process, along with the rules governing the campaign and the nomination of candidates.

      The only question now in my mind is whether we will ultimately see an uncontested Eby coronation, or a shocking red wedding that still finds him standing as heir to John Horgan’s throne when the results are announced on December 3.

      Indeed, he might yet be pointlessly bloodied by some ill-fated challenger(s) who had delusions of grandeur that they might prevail.

      Perhaps quietly egged on by some in Horgan’s ranks who feel threatened by Eby’s ascension, or who just want to see him have to fight for the top job.

      Any day now, he is expected to formally announce his leadership bid, supported by many NDP caucus members.

      They will include the person that most pundits said would have been his most formidable leadership foe, Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon.

      And also, Minister of State for Infrastructure Bowinn Ma and lesser known Minister of State for Child Care, Katrina Chen.

      George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, is out.

      So are former potential heavyweight leadership contenders Municipal Affairs Minister Nathan Cullen and Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming.

      Not many seriously believe that Port Coquitlam mayor Brad West or other prospective outsider candidates will ultimately run for the job, let alone stand much chance of beating Eby.

      Which leaves Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside, Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Minister Josie Osborne, and Finance Minister Selina Robinson as pretty much the only remaining longshot cabinet contenders who might be remotely competitive.

      Any or all of them might still be thinking about throwing their hat in the ring.

      Unless they have a political death wish, including for their party, they should think again.

      Given the leadership ground rules and Eby’s media-anointed, sure-bet status, I expect they won’t stand a prayer.

      Especially now, with the NDP having set the cut-off date for party members to be eligible to vote for September 4, only seven short weeks from now.

      That’s nowhere near enough time for anyone seriously hoping to compete by signing up new members.

      Which probably is precisely the method in the NDP’s madness.

      That is, if the object is actually to frustrate the leadership contest’s own ostensible democratic purpose by trying to minimize the party’s potential for growth and the voting impact of any new members.

      Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon and the minister of state for infrastructure, Bowinn Ma, are both backing David Eby after speculation that they were going to run for the top job.

      Did the NDP braintrust really want a competitive race?

      The NDP constitution prescribes the 90-day voter eligibility requirement, but the party could have allowed more time for leadership candidates to sign up new voting members by extending the leadership election date until later in December.

      Anyone hoping to read the NDP constitution might be disappointed, if like me, they couldn’t even find it on the BC NDP website.

      In any case, the party has also significantly lengthened the voting period, which further disadvantages anyone trying to challenge Eby, to the extent that there will be less time to influence members’ votes before the balloting begins.

      After all, in 2014 the NDP leadership vote originally provided for the same type of preferential, ranked ballot voting process and it was only scheduled to run for a few days, from September 24 to 27.

      That vote was of course short-circuited by Horgan’s acclamation.

      This time round the party has prescribed a 21-day-long mail-in/phone-in/online voting process that will run from November 13 to December 3, with voting instruction letters mailed to all members a week before that voting period begins.

      Inexplicably, that voter eligibility cut-off date has been set for a month earlier than the October 4 deadline now prescribed for leadership candidates to complete their nomination packages.

      It’s the reverse timing of what I would have expected, with the candidate entry cut-off preceding the voter eligibility cut-off.

      As part of that nomination package requirement, all candidates will be obliged to sign a nondisclosure agreement. An issue that the Straight’s Charlie Smith has previously flagged as potentially troubling.

      It will also require them to file a letter of intent to seek the leadership, signed by at least 250 NDP members who joined the party on or before Sunday, September 4.

      By contrast, Ontario’s just-announced NDP leadership contest will only require contenders to submit 100 signatures in support of their candidacy.

      Of whom at least 50 percent must be women and 25 percent who identify as members of other equity-seeking groups.

      The B.C. NDP leadership contest has no such equity requirements.

      But it will further require contenders to have the signed support of at least 10 members from each of at least six of the party’s prescribed eight regions.

      By comparison, Ontario’s NDP has set that signature threshold at 20 members from each of only four of six prescribed regions.

      In both cases, the NDP ’s regional membership support requirement is curious, given that its universal vote won’t be at all geographically weighted as past B.C. Liberal leadership votes were and as the current federal Conservative leadership election will be.

      The point of such geographic weighting under a constituency-based points system is obviously to ensure that no single constituency or region can outweigh all the others by dint of a disproportionately large membership base. Including from new mass member sign-ups.

      But that’s not all.

      All B.C. NDP leadership candidates will be required to pay a nonrefundable $40,000 registration fee, with $15,000 of that due by October 4 and the remaining $25,000 due on October 19.

      That’s a 60 percent higher entrance fee than the NDP required of leadership candidates in 2014, which probably discouraged more than a few people from running and contributed to Horgan’s eventual acclamation.

      True, Ontario’s NDP has set a $55,000 leadership registration fee. But it can be paid in installments over the much longer campaign period that won’t end until the first week in March 2023.

      And more importantly, those leadership candidates will only be required to pay $5,000 in filing their nominations.

      Anyone thinking of running for the B.C. NDP leadership will have to come up with three times the amount of Ontario’s comparable up-front payment, with only two weeks further to pay up the full balance.

      The NDP likes to talk about the B.C. Liberals being a party only for the wealthy.

      OK, so please explain why it is that that party’s leadership contest rules, only required candidates to pay a $1,000 up-front application fee—a fraction of the B.C. NDP’s $15,000 cash payment requirement.

      It only required the initial $5,000 candidate fee to be paid three days after the candidates were officially told they had been approved, with a refundable $20,000 compliance fee also due three weeks after gaining the party’s formal approval to run in the contest.

      The balance of that leadership contest’s required entry fee was payable in three subsequent quarterly installments, again, only after those leadership candidates had been officially approved by the party.

      Not so, the B.C. NDP, which will require all candidates to pony up for $15 grand in filing their nomination packages.

      Which takes me back to the candidate entry cut-off date.

      With a much lower initial entrance fee, the party could have bumped up that entry date while also making it more affordable for more people to enter the contest, if it really wanted to maximize the number of leadership candidates.

      That would have been far better, especially with a bit shorter voting period to help those lesser known candidates win over more supporters, almost all of whom will be existing NDP members.

      Instead, that upfront $15 grand entry feel will probably be enough to discourage all but the bravest or richest leadership contenders, notwithstanding the promised equity fund that chief electoral officer (CEO) Elizabeth Cull will establish by August 4 “to remove personal barriers to participation in the 2022 Leadership race”.

      I have no idea whether she has been hired on a paid basis for that role, or more likely, will be serving in a volunteer capacity.

      Do tell, NDP, if you haven’t already, in the interest of transparency.

      Finance Minister Selina Robinson will be in the midst of budget discussions in the lead-up to the NDP leadership vote.

      Will any high-profile women enter the race?

      I suppose it could have been worse, if the entire $40,000 required entry fee was due up front.

      Tough as that initial $15K entry fee would be for most would-be NDP leaders to scrape together, it probably wouldn’t prove insurmountable to someone like Selina Robinson who had just served as finance minister, or to someone as well-connected to organized labour as Jennifer Whiteside.

      Perhaps that’s what Horgan would most like to see, ambivalent as he seems to be about Eby’s widely preferred candidacy, in also wanting to lend the appearance of a potentially competitive contest featuring at least one female candidate.

      That would still allow either of them to participate in the two—count ‘em, at least two!—official leadership events that the party will be required to host. Maybe even including a debate!

      Time enough to show us all just democratic and exciting today’s New Democrats are, while still probably also allowing either of them to withdraw from the “race” before the second nonrefundable $25,000 leadership entry fee is due.

      That is, assuming any such proposed or approved leadership candidate is not otherwise disqualified by the NDP provincial executive for some other reason, pursuant to a recommendation by the CEO, and after any appeals to the party’s table officers.

      It is a process that seems aimed at encouraging at least one other leadership pretender besides Eby to dip their toe in the water.

      If only, to test their internal party support, to fly the flag for this or that group or social issue, or to push him to make commitments he might not otherwise make, including any that would oblige him to follow through on Horgan’s outgoing lame-duck commitments.

      Either Robinson, Whiteside or Osborne could perhaps do that, even in full expectation of later withdrawing given Eby’s apparent unbeatable strength, without incurring too much financial cost or risk for which they would be personally on the hook.  

      That would still allow for an Eby acclamation and potentially for him also becoming premier as early as late October.

      Because the rules also dictate that in the event someone is ultimately acclaimed, “the CEO, at their discretion, may choose to expedite the Leadership Election Date” to sometime sooner than December 3.

      Presumably, only if Horgan agrees to step down a bit sooner than he might prefer in completing his early Christmas gift to his successor.

      Yet here’s the thing.

      It’s probably in the NDP’s best interests to rally behind Eby sooner rather than later if his victory is as assured as it now appears to be.

      It would hardly be in the party’s interest to see its precious donor contributions redirected to a costly leadership process that will mostly serve to rob it of campaign funds that will be sorely needed, maybe as soon as next spring, for a snap general election.

      The party has set the candidates’ leadership expense limit at $350,000, just like last time.

      But with leadership campaign contributions now restricted to a maximum of $1,200 per person under the Election Act, raising that money will be a whole lot tougher.

      And the NDP isn’t the B.C. Liberal party, where someone like Kevin Falcon might have been able to coax 291 of his wealthy allies to cough up that maximum amount at a single event.

      Technically, according to the leadership Q&A on the NDP website, the maximum amount an eligible individual can donate to a leadership candidate in this race is $1,309.09. So much easier!

      Moreover, that $350 grand campaign expense limit doesn’t even include the $40,000 leadership entry fee or costs prescribed under the act as personal expenses.

      Those additional personal expenses include such things as the candidates’ costs for childcare, travel, lodging, meals, temporary residence, and any disability-related assistance.

      Presumably, that’s what the as yet undefined equity fund will be intended to support.

      With those costs factored in, a serious leadership bid could easily set any would-be contender back over $400,000.

      That’s a helluva lot of small-dollar donations.

      At $10 a pop, for example, it would equal 40,000 donations. Take any minor multiple of that average contribution you want, it’s still a lot of people, time, and work to make it happen.

      All of which would be better invested in the NDP’s reelection efforts, if Eby’s bound to win anyway.

      If there's a real contest, it will take a lot of cash to capture the NDP crown.

      Eby was removed from Treasury Board

      Perhaps an even more important factor to consider is the divisive and negative impact that an acrimonious leadership battle could have on the party’s reelection chances.

      Something tells me all is not as sweetness and light as it appears to be inside Horgan big NDP tent.

      Though the leadership campaign only officially started today, on July 17, my spidey sense tells me it was really kicked off months ago, well before Horgan’s surprise June 28 announcement.

      Specifically, it might have unofficially begun on February 25, when Horgan quietly removed Eby from Treasury Board.

      Apparently the NDP caucus staff didn’t get that memo, as the caucus website still describes Eby as “a member of the Treasury Board”.

      Interesting that Eby was unceremoniously dumped from TB only a few weeks before it approved Horgan’s infamous $1-billion Royal B.C. Museum rebuild vanity project.

      Robinson chairs the TB and rumour has it Eby certainly wasn’t too happy by that politically ludicrous and fundamentally misguided decision, and told Horgan as much in no uncertain terms.

      Interesting as well that both Whiteside and Osborne also still sit on Treasury Board, and as such, shared that committee membership’s distinction as the earliest effective author of that boneheaded capital project.

      Of course, as Robinson’s successor as minister responsible for housing, Eby also recently fired—err, “pushed out”—a number of her appointees to B.C. Housing, following the utterly damning Ernst and Young report on its performance.

      One can only imagine the fireworks that might ensue if those two go at it in a leadership contest, hellbent on trying to discredit each other in also defending the NDP’s pathetic record on that file.

      It would be a dream-come-true for Falcon’s party.

      Rarely are leadership contests harmonious affairs.

      They are typically very divisive exercises by definition, especially when who wins also gets to immediately hold power in government.

      The internal acrimony and broader political damage they carry with them usually take years to overcome, as the NDP of all parties should know so well from past experience.

      And then there’s the immediate and potential future personal cost to any cabinet ministers who enter those contests.

      Just entering the fray would oblige any cabinet minister to step aside and take a whopping pay cut, with no guarantee whatsoever that they would be reappointed to cabinet if they lose. 

      Least of all if they succeed in antagonizing the winner, as Robinson, Whiteside or Osborne would all likely do in trying to differentiate themselves from Eby.

      If only because they would be implicitly arguing that he is a less worthy leader, notwithstanding his broad caucus support.

      Plus, it’s the worst possible time for the finance minister to be abandoning her duties, smack-dab in the middle of the annual budgeting process.

      Let alone with inflation raging, interest rates soaring, a recession either looming or already in process, and the entire public sector potentially facing strike action if things go really sour at the bargaining tables.

      As I said in my previous analysis, the sooner the government gets back to the business of governing under a permanent replacement for Horgan, the better. For health care especially.

      The NDP caucus can sure help to reinforce that message by stepping out in numbers to support Eby’s leadership bid.

      No one could make a stronger statement for party unity than Robinson. If she were to only endorse his leadership, it would truly be all over but the non-counting of ballots and it would avoid any potential for a dreaded  ‘red wedding’.

      Regardless of whether he is all of those MLAs’ ideal candidate, all government members should recognize the hell storm that’s facing them.

      As I outlined in my previous piece, the province desperately needs a steady hand at the tiller.

      Let’s face it, Horgan’s done like dinner.

      It serves no purpose to protract Eby’s inevitable secession with a phoney leadership contest that will mostly distract cabinet attention and divert precious political resources from where they are most urgently needed.

      If the NDP had really wanted to open up the “race” to more candidates, more new members, and a genuine debate on its future fundamental direction, it would have made the rules and costs of entry more conducive to competition.

      It didn’t.

      So, get over it and let’s all move on from this leadership contest-that-isn’t, is my advice.

      What our province and the NDP both really need now is not five months more of political posturing, finger pointing, acrimony, and uncertainty.

      What we all need is decisive and more effective political leadership.

      New leadership that is in turn marked by a renewed sense of purpose, unity, and responsiveness to the myriad problems, challenges, and failings that are otherwise conspiring to elect Falcon’s faux Liberal, neo-conservative alternative.

      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