At first, the BC NDP thought David Eby would become the province’s next premier without a fight.
After Premier John Horgan announced his retirement earlier this year, BC NDP MLAs threw their support behind Eby, the provincial housing minister and attorney general, who announced his candidacy on July 19. Then, a spanner in the works: climate activist and democratic socialist Anjali Appadurai announced she would also be running for party leader.
Her campaign was short-lived, spanning two months from her launch on Aug. 15 to her disqualification by the party’s executive council on Oct. 19. But BC NDP members say the ramifications of the decision to disqualify her are huge.
“The BC NDP is handing David Eby a poisoned chalice,” BC NDP member Kelsey Hannan says over the phone. “This disqualification will change his premiership.”
Hannan had previously been involved in campaigning for NDP candidates at the federal level. He joined the BC NDP as a member to vote in the leadership campaign, without knowing which candidate he would support. What mattered to him was hearing debates on policy and participating in a democratic election—something he feels was taken away by Appadurai’s disqualification.
“If [the BC NDP] want to do just [a] caucus election, they should tell people that. They shouldn’t have wasted everybody’s time and took their money for a leadership vote that never happened,” he says.
Although Appadurai was not an elected member of the BC NDP, she has been involved in the federal NDP. In the 2021 federal election, she ran as a candidate in Vancouver Granville, losing to Liberal candidate Taleeb Noormohamed by 431 votes.
After announcing her intention to join the leadership race a month before the deadline for voter sign-ups to be eligible in the election, Appadurai’s campaign reportedly signed up around 12,500 new members. In contrast, Eby signed up between 1,000 and 6,000. Before the election announcement, party membership reportedly stood at about 11,000 people. — well down from historic highs of 40,000 members.
Complaints were made against Appadurai’s campaign concerning the relationship with Dogwood, an environmental organization that had encouraged its supporters to buy party memberships to elect a “climate champion.” Investigations were opened by Elections BC to examine the complaints.
Allegations also included the solicitation of fraudulent memberships, with members of other parties signing up to vote in the NDP election. The idea that new BC NDP members were Green Party members taking over became popular among some party members, and was echoed by Horgan when he defended Appadurai’s disqualification.
A large-scale party audit began, run by the party, calling new members to probe whether they had affiliations to other parties that could mean they were not eligible to be NDP members. The Breach reports that an external agency was brought in to call over 7,000 new members.
Rik Logtenberg, a city councillor in Nelson who had been a Green Party member until 2021, joined the BC NDP this summer. He says, following messages from the BC NDP, he was given 72 hours to send the party specific documents proving he was no longer a Green.
“A leadership race is a great opportunity to grow your membership and to bring in new members, and to even attract them from other parties,” Logtenberg says. “That’s just a part of the leadership campaign. They generally get that it’s like a welcoming: ‘Welcome to the party, it’s great to have you.’”
He says he found the questioning over his past affiliations “really short-sighted and strange.”
“It’s a disconnect between what one would expect the party to be doing, and what the party was doing.”
The NDP’s chief electoral officer, Elizabeth Cull, investigated the complaints against Appadurai’s campaign. In her final report, she concluded that “because no other remedy can adequately address the failings and breaches,” disqualification was the only option.
Appadurai was informed of the decision on Oct. 14, and had 72 hours to put together a rebuttal for a meeting of the BC NDP’s table officers on Oct. 17. In her response, she stated that rules around third party conduct were changed three times during the election period, and applied retroactively before that point.
The party’s executive voted to accept the results of the internal investigation on Oct. 19, and voted against considering Appadurai’s rebuttal.
“The process, in my opinion, was one that lacked due process,” says Ashley Zarbatany, BC NDP chair of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Economy (SCOPEE), who attended the executive meeting. “We only heard one side, and it was a bit of a kangaroo court.”
Zarbatany joined the NDP in 2017, to vote in the federal leadership election. She says it is not the party executive’s job to decide whether a candidate should be disqualified from a leadership race.
“I think that our role as the provincial executive was simply to allow her to become a candidate,” Zarbatany says. “Any allegations, or accusations of rule breaking should have been dealt with by the appropriate body, which is Elections BC.”
As Appadurai is no longer a candidate, the Elections BC investigation into her campaign and Dogwood BC were shut.
Zarbatany says the current mood is sour, and the party’s leaders are out of touch with general members.
“People are very angry,” she says. “Many longtime members are quitting the party. There’s this fracturing going on … that will only be a gift to [BC Liberal Leader] Kevin Falcon.”
Jesse Inocalla, a former member of the BC NDP from 2019 to 2021, rejoined the party this summer to vote for Appadurai in the leadership campaign. He says he’s heard similar stories from upset longtime members.
“My friend’s mother, lifelong NDP supporter, lifelong donor, lifelong member, has made the decision never to support the NDP again after this, and that’s not the first time I’ve heard that,” he says.
After her disqualification, Appadurai said in a press conference that she would remain a member of the party and “fight inside.” She encouraged new members who had signed up to stay in the party too.
Inocalla says that the disqualification has once again made him disillusioned with the party, as he previously quit over disagreements with the BC NDP’s deforestation and LNG policies.
“Part of me wants to be the guy who shows up at the Mount Pleasant council meetings … but also, I feel like there’s better uses of my time,” he says.
Another new member, Anna Alger, says she joined the BC NDP after previously volunteering with Appadurai’s federal campaign. She was “quite disappointed” with the decision to disqualify Appadurai.
“For the time being, I’m remaining a member,” she says. “Elections are definitely important … but for me, it reaffirmed that we definitely need to keep organizing and doing work outside electoral politics as well.”
Premier-designate Eby, who was sworn in as leader of the NDP on Friday, has said that he wants to keep as many new members as possible in the party.
“Some may feel they don’t have a place in our party. That isn’t true. And I hope they’ll stick around,” he said. “My priority is reaching out to those members … to let them know I will be a leader for all members of the NDP and that climate change is an important issue for everyone in our province.”
Members say it will take more than just words to rebuild unity within the party.
Inocalla suggests Eby could refuse to accept the position and the party could hold a true leadership election. “He is an appointed premier, not an elected premier,” he says. “The membership didn’t vote for him, he was just handed the party.”
The lack of a contested election also concerns Alger, who saw it as an opportunity for different policies to be debated.
“There could have been a dialogue. It didn’t need to be nearly as hostile as it was,” she says. She points to local or specific groups within the party, like party committees or riding associations, as places that new members could get involved to feel like they are having an impact.
“A number of us will be following what Anjali’s next steps are, and the recommendations that her and her team are giving on how to push things in a direction that we believe strongly in,” she says.
Logtenberg says the party needs to see what policies attracted drew Appadurai’s supporters to the party and learn from that.
“Eby can go a long way to repairing the damage with an aggressive climate action plan,” he says. “I think he’ll win a lot of people back to his side and I think a lot of people will put this behind them.”
Hannan says he “doesn’t see much answer for [the BC NDP] moving forward” other than bold policy promises, and worries a lack of action will only drive up support for other parties.
“They may embrace the fact that they’re the ‘federal Liberals of British Columbia’ by taking a centrist position and basically letting the BC Greens [take in] the disaffected voters,” he says.
Meanwhile, Zarbatany says grassroots members within the party have power to change things.
“Certain leaders can be replaced. And the only way that they can be replaced is if people stay and exercise their vote, and organize for it,” she says. “People think that things should just happen magically. You have to work for it.”
Neither Eby nor Appadurai’s media lines responded to a request for comment.More