Anjali Appadurai says the BC NDP’s decision to disqualify her from its leadership race raises legitimate questions about the party’s democratic processes, while several federal NDP MPs think she should have been allowed to run.
Appadurai was officially disqualified from the race on Oct. 19 after running a climate-forward campaign that successfully drew thousands of new members to the provincial NDP. The disqualification was based on a report from the party’s chief electoral officer, Elizabeth Cull, which cited “serious improper conduct” by Appadurai’s campaign that included working with third parties for membership drives.
“I believe that I did the right thing. I did the democratic thing,” said Appadurai. “It didn't go the way that I had hoped, and I don't think it went in a way that was ultimately in the best interest of the party or of my opponent.”
Four federal MPs weighed in on the BC NDP leadership race on Twitter to side with Appadurai in her call to remain in the race. None agreed to answer questions from Canada’s National Observer.
The next day, NDP MP Niki Ashton tweeted her thoughts on the situation.
“As a New Democrat, I’m very disappointed that New Democrats in BC are not going to have the choice they deserve,” the Manitoba MP wrote.
MPs Leah Gazan and Lori Idlout also took to Twitter with their takes.
“The questions we've opened up here go so far beyond me … it's about the direction of the NDP provincially, and, I would argue, federally," said @AnjaliApp, who was disqualified from the BC NDP leadership race on Wednesday. #bcpoli #BCNDP
“Members must be able to choose who leads their party. Let the members vote and #LetHerRun,” Gazan tweeted just before the BC NDP voted to disqualify Appadurai. Idlout, MP for Nunavut, commented on Gazan’s post, writing: “#LetHerRun support democracy.”
Only Idlout’s office responded to Canada’s National Observer, saying: “MP Idlout has no other comments to make on the BC NDP leadership race, and her tweet voices her opinion on this matter.”
The support from federal NDP MPs is a “really interesting indication that this conversation needed to be had,” Appadurai told Canada’s National Observer in a Zoom interview a few hours before the vote on Oct. 19.
“The questions we've opened up here go so far beyond me … it's about the direction of the NDP provincially, and, I would argue, federally.”
A lot of the BC NDP’s fear over the looming prospect of a BC Liberal Party victory and the rise of far-right elements in the country and the province was redirected onto her leadership campaign, Appadurai said.
“We're certainly hearing that commentary that we’re responsible for making the party look weak ahead of a really critical election, and to that I say, if the party doubles down on the centralization of power in the name of winning elections, we have lost sight of who we are and what we stand for.”
The whole situation highlights a clear division between rank-and-file members and the party leaders, says Max Cameron, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia.
Things hit this “crisis point” through a combination of factors: low BC NDP membership numbers, the party’s failure to keep rank-and-file members engaged, a premier who has been very clear about favouring development over the environment and a climate emergency, said Cameron.
Within the BC NDP, environmentally conscious voters are always in a “tug of war” with those who place more emphasis on the need to maintain a productive economy and good-paying jobs, said Stewart Prest, a political scientist at Quest University in Squamish, B.C. The province’s investment in liquefied natural gas projects and its relative inaction on old-growth logging are emblematic of this tension.
“It's always been this balance, and I think it's partly a function of being in government, but it's also partly a function of the different factions that exist within the NDP itself,” said Prest. These factions also exist within the federal NDP, he added.
For example, the federal NDP has long avoided answering whether it would cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion if the party came to power.
“The federal NDP is compromised on fighting the Trans Mountain pipeline because they don't want to upset Rachel Notley, and the federal NDP doesn't fight fracking because they don't want to upset John Horgan,” Green MP and leadership hopeful Elizabeth May told Canada’s National Observer.
Unlike the governing BC NDP, the federal NDP is “effectively a protest party,” said Sanjay Jeram, a professor of political science at Simon Fraser University. “They do play a role in this minority coalition … but they're not a party that can expect to form government on their own… They play by different rules.
“The (federal) NDP is holding their party together. But ... it's a fairly small caucus at this point,” said Jeram. “Where they are with only a very limited number of seats, mostly in very, very dense urban areas, I think it's easier for them to sort of maintain a unified approach.”
If the federal NDP had more party members and MPs, particularly in union-dense ridings where their presence has diminished, you'd probably see “more open conflict” and balancing acts that “(spew) out into the public,” he added.
— With files from The Canadian Press
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer