It didn’t have to be this way. David Eby, B.C. minister of justice and MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, was the obvious choice to succeed John Horgan as the leader of the BC NDP and premier of the province. He’s talented, accomplished and has full support of his caucus and cabinet colleagues. And now, thanks to the unexpected entry of an upstart challenger and the inability of the putative front-runner to generate any actual excitement of his own, the BC NDP is staring at an existential crisis of its own making.

Anjali Appadurai, a climate activist and former federal NDP candidate, began her campaign to contest Eby’s coronation just over two months ago. Since then, she managed to sign up as many as 14,000 new members to the party, the vast majority of whom likely share her hawkishness on everything from pipelines to LNG. She had the backing of Avi Lewis, David Suzuki and other B.C. climate movement heavyweights. There’s just one problem: according to a report from Elizabeth Cull, a former NDP MLA and the party’s chief electoral officer, many of those new members were signed up under fraudulent circumstances.

The NDP’s rules are clear: people cannot be members of a different political party and vote in the NDP leadership race, and a candidate’s campaign can’t sign up new members using the resources of a third party. As Cull details in her report on the Appadurai campaign, both rules were broken repeatedly. She concluded that both Dogwood B.C. and were in cahoots with Appadurai’s campaign, despite their denials and deflections to the contrary.

Alexandra Woodsworth, the campaigns manager with Dogwood B.C. and a volunteer with the Appadurai campaign, inadvertently said the quiet part out loud here. “For those who support political parties other than the B.C. NDP but still want to have a say in this race,” she told potential recruits, “you could choose to pause your membership and return after you cast your vote.”

As Cull concluded, “it is clear that Dogwood solicited fraudulent memberships.”

But these sorts of procedural concerns wouldn’t be an issue if Eby and the party establishment hadn’t left themselves so vulnerable to a hostile takeover. They let the party’s membership ranks dwindle to just over 11,000 people, then failed to sign up enough new members of their own when it was clear a challenger had emerged. That it ever got this far is a stunning indictment of their own competence — and a reminder of the risks associated with the one-member, one-vote style of leadership selection that has become the norm these days.

It used to be that party membership was a longer-term commitment, something expressed and exercised over the course of years of meetings, events and other internal functions. Leadership races were the culmination of that process, and the members who worked the hardest and stayed the most engaged tended to get rewarded with the right to cast a ballot at conventions on behalf of other people. Delegated conventions were exciting and often dramatic affairs, and they tended to accurately reflect the will of the party and its best interests.

Modern leadership races, on the other hand, are a free-for-all — often quite literally. Candidates are driven by the need to sign up as many people as possible, regardless of their commitment to the party or its longer-term interests, and this churn-and-burn style of party building seems to invite bad behaviour. “Indeed, something of this sort — illegal fundraising, faked memberships, or bulk purchases of memberships on others’ behalf (sometimes with illegally raised funds!) — happens in virtually every Canadian party leadership race,” the Globe and Mail’s Andrew Coyne wrote. “And it will go on happening, so long as the parties persist in using leadership elections as membership drives.”

Geoff Norquay, a longtime Tory strategist who helped Canada’s federal Conservatives adopt a one-member, one-vote system for choosing its leaders, shared Coyne’s concerns in a recent piece for Policy Magazine. “Open recruitment of new members and direct election has also displaced the most engaged local party activists and stalwarts who showed up through thick and thin, recruiting and coaching the next candidate, fundraising, running the campaign office and knocking on doors at election time. Today, who knows if the thousands of new members recruited to support a specific leadership candidate will stick around to contribute locally for the long haul?”

Opinion: Time will tell whether Anjali Appadurai’s martyrdom ends up costing the BC NDP the next election, columnist @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver. #BCpoli

He suggested his party might want to consider the British approach to electing leaders, which involves the caucus narrowing the field of choice before putting it to the members. Then again, after Liz Truss’ legendarily bad stint as Conservative leader and prime minister, it’s hard to see anyone wanting to embrace the process that helped put her in charge. But the Eby-Appadurai fiasco is just the latest leadership campaign that will leave the party running it weaker than when it began, and it should move parties across the spectrum to ask if there’s a better way to do this.

Time will tell whether Appadurai’s martyrdom ends up costing the BC NDP the next election, or if the blowback is limited to the organizations that helped engineer her attempted takeover of their party. But one thing is already clear: for Canada’s political parties, a leadership race can be a very dangerous thing.

Keep reading

In denying Anjali's supporters the right to participate in selecting a leader, Cull chose to overlook the Steelworkers Union doing exactly the same thing that Woodsworth did, reported the article. The Steelworkers urged union members to take out BC NDP memberships for the sole purpose of making sure Anjali was defeated.
Eby is now a lame duck, and the energy and enthusiasm of Anjali's supporters will be directed elsewhere.

Yes. What a terrible shame! The NDP have blinding blinkers on, and have missed a valuable opportunity for growth.

Mm . . . the Steelworkers may have done that, but did Eby work with the Steelworkers to get them to do that?

I think there's a difference. I mean, I didn't know there was a rule like that. I myself normally vote NDP rather than Green, but I've gotten pretty pissed off with the BC NDP's totally crappy dealing with issues like liquid natural gas, fracking, logging, maybe Site C, mining (eg going mega-easy on those responsible for the Mount Polley disaster) and so on. So, when I saw an email from Dogwood B.C., an organization I generally like, talking about Appadurai, I followed their suggestion and joined the party, intending to vote for her. To be honest, my hope was that she would lose, but do well enough to put a scare into the NDP and push them to get more serious about climate and environmental issues.

But, honestly, those emails from Dogwood were definitely pitched towards Green party supporters, suggesting that they join the NDP even if they didn't like it much so as to get a small-g green leader for the party. And Appadurai's campaign seems to have been largely based around having organizations like Dogwood do exactly that. If that's a no-no, and thinking about it I can see why a political party would have a rule like that, then she broke the rule, not just incidentally but as her basic campaign strategy. Basically, she was trying to do a hostile takeover of the NDP, and the NDP turns out to have a rule against hostile takeovers. Which is disappointing if you're on the side doing the hostile takeover, but I can see political parties needing to have such rules. I mean, what if some oil company guy signed up thousands of new members to the Green party so as to become leader and remake it into the Greenwashing party?

My initial reaction was that this was bullshit and totally unjustified; I was seriously pissed off. But, looking at the facts in a bit more detail--I hate to say it, but I'm not sure there was that much choice but to toss her. How do you not toss someone whose whole campaign strategy constitutes a rules violation? Especially since, if she won, surely Eby would have cried foul over her violation of the rules, and that would REALLY have gotten messy.

That said, it's still a shame. I do think the BC NDP has ossified and has too many backroom people and not enough grass roots. It needs renewal, it needs more internal democracy, and it needs those things badly; Appadurai's candidacy seemed like a chance to get some of that.

Why, in the midst of a climate emergency, would anyone give a flying $#@% about "a hostile takeover of the NDP" if that takeover was meant to get us to finally do something to safeguard the future? All this BS is just another delay tactic on climate change action.

Surely I'm not the only one with an interest in BC politics who understands that the BC NDP leadership has been putting money, profit and greed ahead of UNDRIP, citizen safety, our very survival as a species, and life itself at every turn.

And to those who think this is hyperbole, you're in for an existential ride in a handbasket.

p.s. The BCNDP is refunding the odious membership fees of new members who supported Anjali in the leadership race (not much of a race when there's only one runner, eh?) ... but you might have to ask for it.

Always a difficult split in the party. Job focused union members, other-employed green supporters, progressive small business people, ... seldom satisfactorily joined. The same story could play out in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Might speak to a Green party needing to be generally more progressive to really get those disenchanted NDPers.

In short, the review managed to keep the NDP from being moved way left, the way the same kind of anti-democratic BS moved Alberta's UCP way, way to the right?

Isn't "martyrdom" a little over the top for not being able to win an election with an antidemocratic system?

It managed to keep the NDP from being moved way green. I'm not clear that Appadurai is all that left, really.
It would do the NDP good to be moved way green (OR way left), I'm just saying there's a distinction.

When the provincial NDP formed an official coalition with the Green Party, they became viable to me. I sense that Canada will never go Green, politically. We environmentalists for the most part do not have the power, ie money and back room deals. We have Passion, yes, grief, definitely. Anger as well. I signed up again with the NDP, because of my online connection with Dogwood. I have lost faith in Horgan and co. But Anjali is not mature enough or strategic enough to have bothered to actually talk to any of the many great people who are in the provincial NDP. She never built connections with those representatives who do advocate for the environment. What was she thinking? I wonder now: who is behind Anjali, personally. How can a person ever have credibility if she ignores people of honour who share her passion within the organization she intended to lead? Now, I think the NDP needs to realize they have shot themselves in the foot. They have stuck to the RULES, and kept themselves from moving forward. Eby is such a non-entity, in our minds and hearts. Bureaucracy overtook evolution of thought.

On Anjali, well said. If she had succeeded, it would have been akin to putting a 12-year old without any driving experience behind the wheel of a bus loaded with cringing government members, while also giving her the CEO position at the head of a 220 billion dollar annual economy.

And that was BEFORE the baldly cynical political machinations by Dogwood and the Greens were discovered (did Anjali actually agree with that?) -- while these organizations publicly denounce the same political games played by elected officials on environmental policy. The NDP internal report called it "fraud." But they were careful to hand it and their evidence over to the BC Electoral office for analysis, who will have the final say.

I was a member of the BC NDP long ago, back when only delegates had voting rights in party elections, but let it lapse when they elected Glen Clark as leader. In hindsight, he wasn't so bad in the premier's chair by comparison with Bill Vander Zalm, who was disastrous.

The NDP will now suffer from leaving themselves so open to being gamed. But I think Anjali will suffer a lot more for her blind naivete, willingness to cave to the fantasy of instant leadership and power without paying any dues or bothering with even a modicum of experience in government, and trust (or was it actual promotion?) of supporting organizations with a stupid focus on a political tactician's methodology so devoid of critical thinking skills over honest ideals, learning processes and putting in the work.

Kevin "Mr. Freeway" Falcon may have considered sending Anjali a bottle of champagne for inadvertently helping him become the next premier. This is really a sad thing, because I was hoping with her raised profile (i.e. without shenanigans) she could run again in my riding under the federal NDP banner and give me someone to vote for who could defeat the Conservative candidate without resorting to a Liberal with questionable character. If somehow Jagmeet Singh accepts her candidacy again, then we will have two centre or left candidates with questionable character to choose from, with a paper-only Green to top up the options.

Nice going, Anjali. A tremendous disappointment for a young person with so much promise, and who will no doubt couch this loss as someone else's fault.

This is all important, but what is crushing is the loss of a climate champion in a position of power when we so desperately need one. We should all be on the streets.

Max's article begins "it didn't have to be this way." But on the evidence it did. In a state of affairs where political power is increasingly concentrated at the top, it follows that party leadership is thus increasingly prized and contenders are thus increasingly motivated to win by whatever means they can get away with. Signing up members, and/or discounting the sigh-ups of rivals, is key to winning, so there's a high demand for new members among all the major parties, which have correspondingly set the bar for membership quite low: usually nowadays just a matter of filling out a bare-bones identification form online. There's no participation requirement to speak of, no background search or loyalty test beyond a simple declaration that you're not already a member of another party. Membership fees are minimal if they're required at all.

For their part, many disenfranchised citizens have sussed out in all this an opportunity to win something back. For the negligible cost of a fib, routine in the internet age, a citizen can potentially cast a meaningful vote for their preferred candidate in not just one party's leadership contest but in all of them. In terms of due representation, that's a much bigger bang for your buck than voting the conventional way, in general elections under first-past-the-post, where you're lucky if your vote counts for anything at all.

Things are this way because that's the way we've been doing them. Changing the way things are means changing the way that we do them.

I am an ex No Difference Party supporter since they maintained the Liberal status quo on all the issues they protested against when in opposition. This review of leadership proved to me once again that the old backroom cronies and corporate lobbyists still hold the power and are afraid of any challenges to their current profitable quid pro quo arrangements with corporate entities in the dirty energy trade. I was almost tempted to join this party due to a possible redirection back to the people, brought about by Appadurai, but just could not as I watched the machinations unfold in the back room to circumvent a rebirth of the original NDP platform. This current facade of a NDP party might have warded off the threat behind the walls but opened the gates to defeat while throwing her out.