There were no pets, dead people, or ghosts involved.
Nonetheless, the B.C. NDP has disqualified leadership candidate Anjali Appadurai, citing collusion with a third party (the campaigning organization Dogwood) in recruiting many thousands of new members.
And with that, one of the fastest, most dramatic political insurgencies in Canadian history reaches the end of its first phase. But I don’t think we’re anywhere near done yet.
Unlike the usual shenanigans in party leadership races, where membership rolls are sometimes padded with fake identities and nonexistent entities, the people who joined the NDP to vote for a climate justice champion are entirely real.
What people are reading
What is really going on has less to do with messy internal partisan debates, and more to do with why many thousands of real actual people were prepared to buy a B.C. NDP membership for $10 in the hopes they could vote for Appadurai for leader of the party, making her premier of the province.
(Full disclosure: I’ve been what they call a “super volunteer” on the Appadurai campaign, since participating in the public Zoom call when she made the decision to run.)
This decision of the party could have far-reaching consequences: Appadurai’s disqualification is a nuclear option. It risks tainting the administration of the new premier, former Attorney General Dave Eby, and sends a message to a whole wave of NDP members that they are not welcome in the governing party. More ominously for the NDP, it unnecessarily hands the party’s opponents a cudgel that they will no doubt deploy relentlessly between now and the next provincial election in 2024.
So why on earth is the B.C. NDP doing this?
Simply put, the party is disqualifying Appadurai because if the leadership race went to a vote of party members, there is every likelihood that she would win. Because a 32-year-old climate justice champ and a handful of climate campaigners just out-organized the B.C. NDP establishment, an impressive and accomplished government minister, and a caucus full of MLAs who support him. And they did it in 25 days.
Understanding how that happened – amid all the noise in this news cycle about broken rules, fraudulent members, Green Party takeovers, and Dogwood’s third party activity – gets us quickly to the real significance of this bombshell moment in B.C. politics.
Since 2017, the B.C. NDP has – to be polite – changed direction on some pretty fundamental issues. It’s best summed up as the B.C. environmental left’s unholy trinity: Site C, LNG, and old growth. After campaigning against the $16 billion mega-dam, Christy Clark’s “pipe dream” of fracked gas export infrastructure, and for a “paradigm shift” away from old growth logging, under John Horgan, all those industrial projects are marching ever onward. This as the skies fill with smoke, the poor and elderly cook in their homes, shellfish cook on our shores, the gardens shrivel under drought, and the rain, when it comes, can trigger biblical flooding.
This is one reason why the B.C. NDP’s membership dropped from a high of 40,000 to just 11,000 before this leadership race: an important segment of the party’s base has been de-mobilized by the government’s decisions on these very issues.
But there’s another reason as well. The NDP has moved time and again to shut down any internal debate about these visceral and existential issues. Attempts to introduce anti-LNG or ambitious climate resolutions at party conventions and in party bodies have been lost, buried, ruled out of order, systematically boxed out and procedurally shut down. Local electoral district associations can’t build coalitions or momentum around shared climate concerns, because the party doesn’t make their contact information centrally available (citing privacy concerns.) Young climate activists who have tried to run for party positions have been blocked or undermined.
In other words, the B.C. NDP decision-makers have been shoving a cork in a bottle filled with an expanding gas: the rising climate anxiety that comes from living in this province on the front lines of the emergency. And it seems that they thought the cork would hold. It didn’t.
Appadurai didn’t throw her hat in the ring until August 6, just 25 days before the deadline to sign up new NDP members to vote in the leadership election. As a longtime climate justice activist, her candidacy generated intense excitement, igniting a fast and furious wave of organizing as environmental groups (especially Dogwood) let their members know that there was an opportunity to put someone in the premier’s chair who ran for the NDP in the last federal election (coming 431 votes shy of winning) and whose previous job was at an NGO called the Climate Emergency Unit.
To be crystal clear, under both NDP and Elections BC rules, third parties like Dogwood are absolutely allowed to encourage their members to get involved in leadership races. Coordination and collusion aren’t allowed, but in order to believe that this was a grand conspiracy, rather than a spontaneous, grassroots uprising…well, you need a reason to see this kind of movement mobilization as a threat.
Sadly, the folks running the B.C. NDP apparently do. Caught completely unprepared for this wave of excitement around climate justice, party insiders freaked out. They launched an absurd narrative about a Green party hostile takeover, and hired an outside firm to start calling thousands of new members, looking for reasons to disqualify them.
While that process will likely continue – a surreal spectacle of a political party actively trying to reduce its membership rolls - at a certain point it must have become clear that there were simply too many thousands of new members to fix the math and quell the insurgency. So instead of trying to purge thousands in a short time, they simply disqualified one: the one that inspired all the rest.
So this phase of the battle is over. The B.C. NDP will no doubt continue to amplify the charges against Appadurai for a few news cycles, though those charges will never be proven in court, because the judgement against her was cleverly constructed to be fiendishly difficult to get to judicial review. And then the party and government will move on, hoping to put this behind them and work on changing the narrative with a new premier.
Dave Eby inherits a badly bruised position, but I suppose there is still hope that he will see this tsunami of climate-anxiety-driven electoral activism as a true source of political energy. Perhaps he will come out with climate policy that is a little bit stronger than the current CleanBC plan, which, as readers here know, is a decent start at climate policy – if its gains weren’t wiped out by fossil fuel expansion subsidized by the same government.
The real significance of this debacle, though, is twofold: first, it’s an important chapter in the long story of the fight for the soul of the NDP.
While the BC Greens and Liberals are undoubtedly the first beneficiaries of a riven provincial NDP, there are still many across the country who see the party as the only electoral force that might still simultaneously embody climate urgency, a zeal to confront the hoarding class, and a deep (if neglected) tradition in working class organizing. With Rachel “I heart pipelines” Notley ascendant again in Alberta, the next scrap at the NDP corral won’t be long in coming.
More urgently, this was the most successful and electrifying electoral intervention by the climate movement in Canadian political history. It was in every way a pop-up candidacy, and yet it rocked an experienced technocratic governing party and stole a march on it in less than a month. And when the hammer came down, it was able to move more than 5,000 people to send protest emails in less than 24 hours.
That’s the thundering power of social movement organizing. And Appadurai’s meteoric run should be seen as a portent by movement millennials toiling away in the issue silos of the non-profit industrial complex: this was a flex. Getting into the mess of party politics is, sure, messy. There is also power here. Moving at the speed of trust can also be a rush.
And we can’t stop here. If a political party of the left and a generation of brilliant activists and communicators can’t find a way to respect and cooperate with each other soon, then we’ll all find ourselves putting our bodies in front of public health clinics in the era of Prime Minister Pierre.
I've written to the BCNDP to
I've written to the BCNDP to demand my membership fee back. If they're going to accuse me of wrongdoing, they can blinking well refund my money.
Can anyone else picture PP getting all his new memberships without any other organization encouraging people to sign up? I can't.
Suddenly, our provincial NDP is all principled? Give me a break.
_"If a political party of the
_"If a political party of the left and a generation of brilliant activists and communicators can’t find a way to respect and cooperate with each other soon..."_
I appreciate the commentary from Avi Lewis and have been watching the events surrounding Anjali Appadurai's bid with interest as they unrolled towards, what I think was, the inevitable (short-term) conclusion.
(To be clear, every assertion following is preceded by an implied, “in my opinion”, where it is not explicitly stated)
The traditional left/right framing of politics, in my view, does not meet the moment because traditional left/right parties don't integrate the needs of the ecosphere into their philosophies of governance. In BC, the political boxing ring features combatants recruited from the same philosophical population; that is, they come from the Extractors. One side of this coin has the workers (NDP), the other has the owners (SoCreds, Liberals, whatever's next). British Columbia’s ecosystems, from which they extract enormous wealth, do not feature and are not considered beyond how they can fatten bank accounts, and the appeasing lip service and green washing they occasionally necessitate.
I think this is why, when the NDP wins elections, the extraction capitalists don’t panic. I think it’s also why they see value in participating in party activities.
My point of view is also somewhat cognizant of, in my limited understanding, the historical lack of clarity of all the cornerstones of a Green worldview. That is to say, is it (natural) liberalist capitalist? (Natural) Social democrat? (Natural) Democratic socialist? Something else?
So, is a successful marriage between an extraction-based, ecologically tone deaf (think of a monkey with fingers in its ears singing “la la la la…”), ostensibly social democratic party, and a Green group of “brilliant activists and communicators” really in the cards?
Sure, continue this offensive within the NDP -- I have read recent commentary from self-identifying, long-time Dippers supportive of Ms. Appadurai's candidacy -- but I think in the short to medium-term, other activists, in the Green Party itself, ought to be concentrating their electoral efforts, provincially and federally, into a select subset of strategically chosen ridings with the objective of building a substantive presence in the legislature / parliament; maybe they could, again, hold the balance of power (and actually make use of it next time).
The grand, democratic notion of a candidate in every riding is, well, grand and democratic, but hardly strategic. On the other hand, the Quebec CAQ came out of nowhere, as a new party, to quickly win two consecutive elections. Obviously, there’s a lesson there.
Good morning Ken ~ I believe
Good morning Ken ~ I believe you missed the point.
Well, then, Jane, don't be
Well, then, Jane, don't be coy; pray enlighten me on what you believe to be the point.
I guess I missed the point
I guess I missed the point too, because much of what Ken wrote sounds spot-on to me. To all disaffected climate-sincere NDP'ers out there, why not consider putting your energy into the BC Green Party?.
"The grand, democratic notion
"The grand, democratic notion of a candidate in every riding is..."
Just to clarify, this statement is solely in reference to the national Green Party policy of running candidates in every riding.
I moved to BC about 5 years
I moved to BC about 5 years ago and even supported the BC NDP before the move. But as a lifelong NDP member, I was appalled by the government's support of the LNG pipeline construction (with its tacit approval of brutal RCMP treatment toward Indigenous people on their own land) and by the BC NDP's support for clearcutting BC's old growth forest, our planet's last remaining temperate rainforest. Shame, shame, shame. I suspect that there were a good number of former Party members who came back to support Appadurai. Truthfully, the NDP left us a long time before we left the Party.
I think there are three problems that make the NDP what it is.
Back in the days before worker unionization had peaked, the NDP was *the* representative of employees and farmers, not to mention poor people. That somehow morphed into being "the union party." Union workers are now much better paid, their concerns are much more aligned with those of Big Industry, and the NDP across the country has (pardon me in advance) wh*red for industry for decades.
They do elect some very good people, and for me, the problem is that there *is* no electable party with a decent climate change platform.
After the stunning stupidity of the party hoi polloi in the last federal election, and absent some changes there and a bit more professionalism, I can't imagine any recovery even of what they had, any time soon.
That might be an insufficiency of imagination on my part.
The BC NDP needs to overhaul its executive body. Don't they get elected by members, too?
Part of what I see as a major problem with politics now, compared to "then," is that the electorate simply cannot trust any party to carry through with its election "promises." Because they all lie to no good purpose, just to get power and rake in goodies from the extraction and processing industries.
They lie covertly, and by innuendo. They lie sneakily, with weasel words and tangled legalese grammar. They lie openly, and persistently even after being caught red-handed. In other words, they are comprehensive and systematic abusers of the electorate, generally, and of their own party members in particular.
Every single party has screwed over ridings, refusing to accept their choice of candidate. In the Liberal party, it seems to be generally accepted practice. The Conservatives just shade out the riding membership's choice and issue a replacement that no one, in or out of the party, elected ... or (like the BC NDP this round) screen out (with zero membership input) any candidates that don't hew to the corporate line.
In this case, had Ms. Appadurai not already have been approved as an NDP candidate (and made an excellent showing in the last election!) or if she had in the recent past run for another party, there might have been some room for alarm. It seems to me an extraordinarily stupid move on the part of the party to assume that it couldn't raise funds for elections from sources other than the extraction and military supply industries, to the extent that it would seek to disenfranchise its own members.
Were there a likely better alternative, the best move would be to ditch them. As it is ... who knows.
I'm annoyed enough at the federal party shenanigans in Ontario last time around, that the only reason I'd join again would be to vote in executive and leadership elections. Unless there are some stunning changes to the way they handle themselves, and show a little respect for members and the candidates they choose. At this point, I'm still not convinced that the federal NDP wasn't simply taken over.
I'd have had some grudging sympathy for the "FreeDumb Con" if that's what they were protesting. But they actually wanted more of the same.
Avi, this has been going on
Avi, this has been going on with the NDP since the War in the Woods demonstrations in the early 1980s. People were trying to green the NDP back then - in the party and outside on the streets. Did nothing. The Green Party of BC formed in 1983-4. And I'm not sure at all at all why YOU choose to run for the NDP rather than the Greens. What is it that that you can't see?
Bottom line is that Avi has a
Bottom line is that Avi has a strong class analysis, and the Greens . . . some of them do, but most of them don't. The avowed position of the Greens tends to be "neither left nor right"; they like to claim that in the face of environmental issues all that has become irrelevant.
But it hasn't. And that's not just a problem for the Green capacity to govern well for the welfare of people, it's a problem for the Green environmental analysis--you can't really do a good job on the environment without grappling with how the nature of capitalism drives it to harm the environment. Growth is built into capitalism from its first principles, treating nature as an externality is almost as fundamental. Starting from a status-quo-except-the-environment stance, which is to say refusing to question capitalism, disables your ability to understand how threats to the environment work.
The NDP could stop being a disappointment without changing their avowed ideology--they'd just have to start living up to it. But the Greens would have to significantly change their basic ideas in order to be something I could support.
Rufus Polson - Exactly. And,
Rufus Polson - Exactly. And, Greens tend to be more conservationists rather than environmentalists.
"the only electoral force
"the only electoral force that might still simultaneously embody climate urgency, a zeal to confront the hoarding class, and a deep (if neglected) tradition in working class organizing."
The NDP has consistently failed over decades to embody climate urgency, pursuing targets inconsistent with the science and cooperating closely with Liberal watering-down of the NZAB mandate. Its zeal to confront the hoarding class has been weak at best (with a recent national leader happy to praise Margaret Thatcher and her works). And, as you acknowledge, Avi, the working class organising is neglected, with the knowledge of how to do it largely absent. To continue to put trust in the NDP looks like mere nostalgia. I hoped that Anjali could prove me wrong, but she was dealing with deeply entrenched forces on their home territory, and they would have made her life a misery if she had become leader. Just as their counterparts did to Ryan Meili in Saskatchewan (and he wasn't even a consistent climate activist).
" but I think in the short to
" but I think in the short to medium-term, other activists, in the Green Party itself, ought to be concentrating their electoral efforts, provincially and federally, into a select subset of strategically chosen ridings with the objective of building a substantive presence in the legislature / parliament;"
And the question you [all the above] should be asking yourselves is, "why has this tactic not worked [yet]?" Because the majority of ordinary voters are not persuaded to vote Green. This is what you need to get done, vs. a sneaky attempt at a hostile takeover of the NDP in between elections. Like many BCers I voted for gradual change towards equality, not revolution or catastrophic curtailment of our energy systems and the industries that put bread on the table for millions.
We'll see how real they are
We'll see how real they are if they stay. They need to find a seat for her to run in. If she can get into the legislature, she and her followers can continue to help the party shift to higher environmental ground. We're all going to have to find the high ground going forward, and the sooner we face that fact, the better are the chances for our grandchildren.
I really respect Avi Lewis.
I really respect Avi Lewis. I don't ENTIRELY agree with him on this, but I'm far from entirely disagreeing with him. But agree or disagree, Avi Lewis is always a class act.
When public servants begin to
When public servants begin to play roulette with our future, it's life on this planet that loses as it has throughout centuries of machiavellian, racist, sexist, classist pantomimes.
When humans begin to realize the cost of the power trip no matter how clever and educated the plan, there's a window of opportunity for us to change direction toward survival.
I don't believe this
I don't believe this controversy would have happened if Anjali ran for office in an actual riding and been elected to office, attained a junior cabinet post or chair of a committee, worked on her fellow MLAs with respect to environmental policies while at the same time got to know how a $220B economy and government actually works, then become Minister of Environment or even the premier.
All if the above requires time and has a distinct learning path, both of which Anjali seemed too keen to skip over, with help from her friends, to instant power, perhaps more for the sake of shaking everything up on purpose. That will probably backfire big time.
No one questions Anjali's ideals or commitment to ecological and climate issues. Everyone should question her cynical methodology to attain power, while also questioning the BC NDP's internal election, leadership and environmental policies.
This could be a healthy exercise, or it could tear progressives apart and ensure the premiership of Kevin Falcon for the next decade. Time will tell.
At least Anjali's supporters
At least Anjali's supporters get the problem here!! THERE IS NO TIME!!!
Yes, logging old growth
Yes, logging old growth forests can be instantaneously shut down with a stroke of the pen. It's not possible with fossil fuels because fossil energy has been is embedded in everything, from mobility to food, for a century. It will take time and a lot of patient wisdom to electrify, build out sustainable cities, buildings and transportation systems and alter agricultural and forestry practices toward regeneration and conservation.
It's patently obvious Appadurai has loads of motivation on the environmental file. But she and her supporters have not presented a single molecule of evidence that they possess the patience or wisdom to carry all that out without massive upheaval. In fact, they seem to have a siege mentality when you read how they are even more riled up and are now focused on a coup d'état on the NDP at the riding level in a quest for instant power. I referred to their lack of critical thinking skills before. The electorate will react to disruption or a forced split in their government and will without doubt defeat the NDP. Maybe even wipe them out. Perhaps that is the unspoken goal here. In that scenario the only entity seizing power for the next decade will be the BC "Liberals," not Appadurai / Greens / NDP. And all of us will see climate and environmental policies mown over by even bigger industrial interests as fully paid up members of Kevin Falcon's outfit.
Taking over a political party on ideological grounds without a credible plan to present to the public will produce chaos. Quickly killing logging and fossil fuel production will quickly kill jobs. Violent truck loggers and oil field workers will show up at the legislature in a huge convoy the next day and make the angriest environmental protest seem like a garden party. What is Appadurai's plan on replacing those jobs? What would she say to them?
If Appadurai and her supporters deny they will act irrationally if they succeed in taking over the NDP, then why have they acted so impetuously to seize control of a party in power, especially in the absence of a plan? The NDP do not have ultimate control over the fate or success of party members. Voters hold that power, and disrupters will be unceremoniously tossed on their asses.
Great article, thanks. I dare
Great article, thanks. I dare hope we'll hear from Appadurai in future.
Hamish Telford, associate
Hamish Telford, associate professor of political science at University of the Fraser Valley:
"Leadership contests are about winning over the membership of the party," he said. "With the members that she signed up, there was a very real fear that she could win this thing," he said of Appadurai.
"As far as the party was concerned, it was a nice, neat outcome. They did their own investigation, found her guilty and tossed her out of the race. And that cuts off the possibility of an Elections BC investigation, which would have been the authority of definitive determination, if she had broken election laws."
The NDP submitted their
The NDP submitted their report to EBC for an independent review. We'll see how it turns out.