Two narratives collided head-on in spectacular fashion late Wednesday night when the BC NDP disqualified Anjali Appadurai from the party’s leadership race, alleging she broke multiple campaign rules, so clearing the way for David Eby to become the premier of B.C.

The first went like this: B.C.’s NDP is the most progressive provincial government in Canada — a precious thing in a time of surging right-wing sentiment. Eby, a younger, more progressive version of John Horgan, had the near-total support of his caucus to push the party even further in that direction — until a 32-year-old climate activist who has never held office launched an insurgent leadership campaign, illegally recruiting thousands of new members whose leadership votes likely would have landed her in the premier’s office. That victory, had it been allowed, would have burned the party down in the name of trying to improve it, guaranteeing a BC Liberal government in 2024.

Here’s how the other story goes: The BC NDP’s progressive credentials end where climate policy begins. At a time when heat domes, atmospheric rivers and wildfires are destroying the fabric of this province, costing billions of dollars each year, killing hundreds of people and displacing tens of thousands more, the party remains beholden to fossil fuel interests. The success of Appadurai’s campaign was no sign of cheating; it was a clear sign of the valid frustration felt by thousands of climate-conscious citizens whose sense of betrayal at the hands of a climate-indifferent government was only heightened by their candidate’s disqualification.

It’s OK to have mixed feelings about all this. In fact, it would be irrational not to, because both narratives hold some truth. Until both sides can acknowledge that, the rift between B.C.’s NDP and the province’s environmental movement will only deepen, to their mutual detriment.

Eric Denhoff, the NDP’s former deputy minister of Aboriginal affairs, was not the only person I spoke to who expressed admiration for Appadurai’s vision while remaining firmly opposed to her candidacy. He explained why he felt Appadurai represented such a threat to both the NDP and the goal of climate action.

“Say [she] wins the leadership,” Denhoff said, painting a picture in which Premier Appadurai immediately cancels the Coastal GasLink pipeline and bans all old-growth logging, as she’d promised to do. She would also cast the future of the Site C dam into serious doubt and launch fresh legal proceedings against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, he said.

“The question is, do you think she could somehow work her magic to get caucus onside?” Denhoff described this as “an absolute nightmare scenario” for the BC NDP. “She wouldn’t get their support, and so then you’d have another leadership race in weeks or months.” Either she’d be kicked out of office or she’d put the government on the hook for tens of billions of dollars in cancelled contracts. Whichever came first, Denhoff said, the only thing Appadurai’s victory would have accomplished was a “guarantee that a government comes in that is way less progressive than the NDP.”

That scenario forced B.C.’s NDP to choose between two poison pills: either allow Appadurai to become premier, melt down the government and open the gates for a crushing defeat in the next general election or disqualify her for breaking the party’s campaign rules and make half the province think it was the NDP, not Appadurai, who cheated.

But here’s the other way to see it. “We are at the 11th minute of the 11th hour here on a number of fronts, and we need to do better,” said Alexandra Woodsworth, campaigns manager for Dogwood, the advocacy group at the heart of this collision story. As everyone who’s followed this saga now knows, members of Dogwood, the self-described “largest non-partisan citizen action network” in B.C., signed up thousands of new NDP members during Appadurai’s campaign.

Woodsworth acknowledges the risk that an Appadurai premiership might have posed to the NDP’s electoral prospects — “that would have been a very interesting time in B.C. politics” — but she echoed Appadurai’s insistence that the party’s incremental approach to climate policy represents the greater threat. “We are not going to build the world we want to see by acting out of fear,” Woodsworth told me the morning after Appadurai was disqualified. “We need to go out and fight for that world.”

Two narratives collided head-on late Wednesday night when the BC NDP disqualified Anjali Appadurai from the party’s leadership race. @arno_kopecky breaks down the aftermath of her ouster and what comes next. #BCpoli #BCNDP

In this version of events, Appadurai’s run for the leadership was no hostile takeover. It was a tactical leap of faith by the leader of a movement cast in the NDP’s own mold, a movement trying desperately to steer society away from the brick wall it’s racing toward. What’s more, it worked — Appadurai’s army of climate justice warriors took advantage of the NDP’s own rules and caught the party with its pants down. And that success, Woodsworth argues, suggests Appadurai’s victory might not have been the political kryptonite the party’s establishment portrays it as. “There is no foregone conclusion here,” Woodsworth said.

According to both Dogwood and the Appadurai campaign, the same cannot be said of the investigation that led to their disqualification. Like Appadurai, Woodsworth categorically denies the charge that Dogwood collaborated with the campaign. Yet she acknowledges that she, the campaign manager for Dogwood, helped draft some of Appadurai’s campaign literature on a volunteer basis. When I asked if that wasn’t an admission of guilt, Woodsworth echoed the defence Appadurai made in an open letter: “They changed the rules as the race progressed.” Elizabeth Cull, the NDP’s chief electoral officer and author of the disqualification report, “wanted to retroactively find evidence of a foregone conclusion.”

“That’s the narrative for people who broke the rules and are trying to rationalize their way out of this,” Shane Simpson, a longtime NDP MLA who served as minister of social development and poverty reduction until his retirement in 2020, told me. “One of the things to understand is that the rules changed considerably in 2017. When the government ended corporate and union donations, and essentially said those groups could not participate in the same way, it also affected leadership campaigns. Dogwood should have known that you can’t hire phone banks, you can’t phone your mailing list, you can’t buy ads, in the same way a union couldn’t write a cheque for $50,000 for David Eby to run his campaign.”

A popular counterargument in this saga has invoked a letter the Steelworkers Union wrote to its members, urging them to sign up and vote for Eby, as proof of a double standard. But the Steelworkers Union didn’t collaborate with Eby’s campaign in any way, and no one — including Dogwood or Appadurai — is suggesting they did. That’s the key difference.

“Those are the rules,” Simpson said. “They are more stringent than the rules were pre-2017, but if you want to be leader of the party, if you want to be premier of British Columbia, then you have some responsibility to understand the rules.”


Justly or not, Appadurai’s campaign lost the battle over process. She has been disqualified, the race is over. But what about the battle for the vision she represents, of the need for this province to embrace a far more aggressive posture towards climate justice?

“What’s sad about the last couple of weeks is that it’s made it so clear the degree of control the fossil fuel lobbyists hold over the BC NDP,” said Monte Paulsen, a former journalist for The Tyee who is now a climate change specialist with the building-design firm RDH. Like many progressive voters in B.C., Paulsen had let his NDP membership lapse in recent years, then renewed it once Appadurai entered the race. “I thought, 'Wow, this is a smart young woman with a good message.' A normal party would see that as a good thing.”

Paulsen feels a healthy party embraces the influx of new membership. “Five or 10 thousand new members and all we have to do is move forward on climate a little bit? What’s the problem with that? A normal party would take this approach from Appadurai and say, ‘Hey, this is great.’ But the fossil fuel lobbyists have the opposite response.”

In Paulsen’s view, it wasn’t even the prospect of an Appadurai victory that concerned the fossil fuel lobby but her mere presence in the campaign. “They’re not worried about her becoming the premier,” he said. “They’re worried about her doing exactly what she proposed to do, which is put out a platform and have a public debate for several months about the role of fossil fuel development in British Columbia. And it’s the fossil fuel lobby embedded in the BC NDP that was afraid of that dialogue.”

The true extent of the fossil fuel lobby’s influence over NDP policy is debatable, but the province’s ongoing subsidies for the industry and the fact that industry lobbyists log multiple meetings with the B.C. government per day do lend some credence to this view, which is deafeningly echoed by Appadurai’s camp on social media and beyond.

“Many of us backed Appadurai because we felt like it would be a healthy thing for the NDP to have a debate about climate,” Paulsen said. “And what we were shown instead is that the NDP is absolutely not going to have a debate about climate.”

Unsurprisingly, the NDP establishment disagrees.

Denhoff described the leadership race as a “battle between incrementalism and ‘let’s do it now.’ And the problem is nobody has convinced the electorate yet, to our failure, that [climate] urgency requires the kind of draconian action that it does.” Denhoff insisted that “the fault isn’t the NDP in government. The fault is all of us not being able to communicate the urgency of climate change to the electorate and present them with solutions so that they go, ‘Yeah, I’m willing to suck it up and do this.’ Because right now, support for climate change is a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Poll after poll confirms Denhoff’s observation, to say nothing of the public reaction to high gasoline prices and the roaring success of that other candidate who flooded his party’s leadership race with new members: Pierre Poilievre.


So, what now? Has the NDP destroyed its credibility, as so many of Appadurai’s followers claim? And will Appadurai’s vision of a climate-conscious BC NDP go down with the ship of her campaign? Will she and her movement go to war with the party?

“We have proven to this party that there is an enormous appetite for visionary leadership, and I hope that the party has heard that call,” Appadurai said at her press conference on Thursday, the day after she was disqualified. “There’s a lot of disillusionment, but I don’t think that’s a reason to rip up our memberships, and I won’t be ripping up my membership… What I’m interested in is seeing this party have a healthier relationship with its grassroots.”

Simpson believes, “the people of British Columbia will forget about this by the new year.” By the time the next general election comes around in 2024, he added, “their concern isn’t going to be the internal machinations of the NDP or the Green Party or the environmental movement. It’s going to be, ‘I have challenges for me and my family and my life, and what are you going to do to help me to deal with those challenges?’ And if David Eby and the government can support people and meet those challenges, then they’re going to do OK.”

“The reality is that David Eby has a year and a half to earn my trust,” said Paulsen, “and I really hope he does. I hope he proves me wrong.”

“I think the only way out of this is for [the NDP] to have some kind of rapprochement and bring Appadurai in,” said Denhoff. “Otherwise, what’s the solution? Two years of fighting each other in the trenches and then letting the other guys walk in and take the horse out of the barn.”

“This process really mobilized and built up a huge amount of momentum and excitement around politics and change in a way I haven’t seen on issue-based campaigns in a long time,” said Woodsworth. “It’s really fired up a lot of people. And a lot of that hope was thrown in our faces last night, but my hope is that people do stay, those who signed up, with the idea that the NDP could be a vehicle for the kind of transformative changes that we all want.”

Woodsworth did allow that “my biggest regret is around the way that this has reinforced the idea of politics as dirty and cynical.” That lament is one of the few things both sides can surely now agree on — though each describes the other as the cause of that cynicism.

Nevertheless, there remains plenty of hope for progressives and government alike to salvage from the wreckage of this leadership race. The NDP is still in power and seemingly united behind the new leader, with two years to mend fences. Appadurai’s campaign has, at the very least, demonstrated the climate community’s influence. That influence is sure to grow in lockstep with the physical damages of climate change itself.

Eby, who nobody has ever accused of stupidity or political naiveté, can only ignore that influence at his — and all of our — peril.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
October 24, 2022, 12:54 pm

This story has been corrected to reflect that Eric Denhoff is not currently a member of the BC NDP.

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Great article. We all so desperately need some hope right now, and super, natural B.C. has always been a holiday gem, the mecca of that vital, restorative sentiment until the last few years with climate change wreaking havoc.
So it also seems fitting, and natural that the political change needed to address our primal despair might start there on that beautiful edge of the country.
Surely supposedly open-minded progressives can now see that uniting the left is the most genuinely hopeful and the only bona fide solution, that overcoming the usual predictable, petty narcissism of small differences would be the truly fresh and new thing that would spark actual HOPE. A new name would help too, like the "Progressive Party," period. Failing and not doing so now would put paid to the authenticity of any claims of caring about our mutual survival above all else. We're not just at the eleventh hour, we're approaching that minute before midnight.

Uniting the left is a nice idea however the BC Greens and the BC NDP do not have very much in common. The BC Greens are way more progressive on social policy let alone policies on climate change and environmental destruction.
The BC NDP couldn't even stand sharing power with the BC Greens as was evident with Horgan cancelling the agreement with the BC Greens and calling an election to consolidate power.

Excellent article.
I agree with those who say, it's not going to work if you choose a leader with a flash mob, and this new era of social media, this is going to be a problem for all political parties. The article mentioned Poilievre; another good topic for investigative journalists would be how the federal Green Party ended up with a leader who had no environmental credentials whatsoever, as well as zero political savvy. And did Alberta's UCP really want a QAnon believer for their leader?

Good questions for sure. But as the political class stall and seem content with small PR programs rather than real and sustainable action........outsiders from the political process are bound to proliferate. The scary thing for me is how reactivist both PP and Smith in Alberta are.

We on the progressive left dither , squabble, play power games.........while on our extreme right flank, charismatic crazies catch the whiff of popular frustration and promise to take us back to the future. Climate catastrophe is real now....and its affecting everyone.

But one of the most alarming affects is the anger directed at politicians who, if anything, haven't done enough to reduce our emissions. We do need to unite, and stay active..........because too many in the general public seem determined to deny climate reality.......and rally behind people who don't have any ideas about how to tackle the climate reality.....

It's simply not real for them. Not on their radar except as a possible hoax with which to goad their followers
to irrational anger.

Polievre offers easy, simple solutions to immediate, day-to-day problems. Climate activists offer draconian solutions to problems that are pretty remote from day-to-day. Which is more important or who has the more realistic or rational solution doesn't cut through emotional decision making. "I will make bread affordable" vs. "No more oil". Clearly the former has more emotional appeal to the man in the street, despite its irrationality, and the rationality of the latter is suspect amongst the rational.
And that's a problem I don't know how to solve, but it needs solving, big time.

I was a long-time NDP member and activist who let my NDP membership lapse. I have been so disappointed in the NDP in government: how it has handled the healthcare crisis, the LNG development vs Indigenous rights, Old-growth logging... it is a long list and the NDP has consistently followed Economy-first over People-first policies.

If you have seen the Steelworkers' letter to its members in support of Eby--it is very illuminating. It was not so much "support Eby" as it was "anti-environmentalist" and said to support Eby to protect unionized jobs. That is the thinking of the NDP decision-makers, and Appadurai did not have a chance of overcoming it.

The day Appadurai was disqualified was the day I took out my membership in the BC Green party. We have had three "once in a century" weather events since the last provincial election: the heat dome, the 'atmospheric river' and our current severe drought--lives lost, over a billion dollars in damage to infrastructure, and an unknown impact on our environmental resources. The Climate Crisis is here, now, and political leadership that can't adapt to that reality deserves to land on the scrap heap of history.

Yes but although the Green Party has served a purpose in the evolution of politics it has no possibility of winning power. We have to all become more utilitarian about voting at this point. It's US or THEM now.

The Greens did hold power in the last election - propping up a minority government. That can happen again. Don't count the Greens out if you really want change.

We just can't really continue splitting the vote on the left.

Strategic voting can accomplish a win-win solution out of a 3-way split if it is done deliberately and up-front. A Green minority would give the NDP a much needed fig leaf for embracing Green climate change policies.

Really Arno - a mile wide and an inch deep? That's what Liberal MP Patty Hajdu told me a few years ago - just after her government bough the TMX pipeline.

So we should give credit where credit is deserved - the criminal (The UN Secretary General's word, not mine) lack of climate leadership.

Canadians desperately need someone who tells the truth and acts on it. Even if that means losing the next election. Think of the CO2 kept out of the atmosphere if the NDP's worst fears had been realized.

As long as our leaders keep lying to us with their actions, we shouldn't expect even the atmospheric rivers to be enough to deepen Canadian's climate knowledge or commitment - and we should stop using that as an excuse for politicians' inaction.

Paul

I should say that I own and have read two of Arno's books and he's got a great fairly recent interview with Steve Paikin on The Agenda. My quibble is just with that framing.

Paul

But the bottom line in this context remains winning the next election.

It's like playing roulette when you juggle environment vs. popular views. The truth as I see it - we can only vote for what will make a better world (justice or clean environment). Trying to predict what will be popular and using that as the goal or way through means we fall short of what we really want. Democracy could really use politicians who have integrity and who will do what is right, even though its beyond the ambition of folks who just want a place to live and a job.

We must stop being a petrostate and be a government for a sane society.

Again how is it not as easy as ABC i.e. Anything But Conservatives?
How does everyone manage to keep forgetting that at best they don't actually think climate change is that big a deal and at worst just think it's another of the MANY fundamentally stupid and ridiculous conspiracy theories that THEIR side are the poster guys for? Many of them don't really believe those either but it's still THEM who have unabashedly trafficked in their blatant misinformation/disinformation by fully capitalizing on social media algorithms.
Hence the fact that we refer to a conservative "narrative," but not a liberal one? Just like we never talk about a "conservative democracy?"
Voting isn't just another form of ubiquitous personal expression, it's become existential.

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."

This article essentially captures my take.......as an ndp supporter in Alberta. Another province still in the vise of Big Oil, the ndp here have to convince voters that a just transition is possible, but also that the fossil fuel sector won't be left behind. Given the reality of climate change, there is lots to do.........and as more of us realize every day........more jobs in the transition economy that are remaining in Oil and Gas. Automatic machinery and artificial intelligence have been developed to keep oil revenues up, and costly jobs in the industry down.

So the future is becoming less stable, but more and more obvious. However, there's a lot of convincing to do before ordinary people see inflation as the temporary creation of a fossil fuel driven economy, and extreme weather as the long term threat to all our futures. We all have a role to play in bringing the general public up to speed, but for sure, if the new members who signed up hoping for a climate champion walk away because they didn't get their way on the first try........the changes coming won't be positive.

We need to understand who still supports the present unsustainable economy and why. We need to connect the dots between climate catastrophe and the urgent need to end war games around the planet. We need to connect our extreme weather events to the much greater predicaments of the people of Pakistan...and more recently Nigeria.

We have to end fossil fuel expansion...build the new electric grid...and get to work sustaining intact forests and wetlands. We need to regenerate much of our over fertilized, over used agricultural land, we need to plan for forms of urban agriculture to insure food security.

There is so much to do........and this effort to move the B.C. NDP in an ecological direction is only one action. Climate activists need to take heart, mobilize, but not just to form government. Until there are solar panels on every suitable roof, the job hasn't been done. From inside the B.C. government, programs could be crafted to bring more ordinary people into climate action.
We might be surprised how much of a difference low electricity bills or alternatives to gas heating can make in a citizens belief in a better tomorrow.

Well, that's a little more realistic! Asserting that politicians MUST do the RIGHT THING, i.e what you say, is just another form of elitism. First get elected; then do as much as much of the 'right thing' as you can get done while getting re-elected. It's called politics.
The Dogwood takeover strategy was juvenile, and BC is lucky that the NDP had rules that stopped it from working.

The premiership of Canada's third-largest province is not an entry-level position. The limitations and shortcomings of many premiers is a real but separate question, and the solution is not a hostile takeover by exploiting party leadership race rules.

"The true extent of the fossil fuel lobby’s influence over NDP policy is debatable . . ." Really? Read this piece by Sonia Furstenau.
https://www.nationalobserver.com/2022/10/24/opinion/real-climate-leaders...
Furstenau asks the question: "How can we expect this government to act on climate when the oil and gas lobbyists are embedded in the party?"
Elizabeth Cull is a former NDP minister and now a paid lobbyist in the oil and gas industry. You can add her name along with Bill Teilman (never elected but a major known NDP supporter, who also campaigns against proportional representation) is a paid lobbyist for the oil and gas industry; Moe Sihota, a former NDP minister has his own lobbying firm takes on contracts with the oil and gas industry. I was speaking with a person a few weeks ago whose former NDP MLA on the mainland is now a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry. According to Furstenau the BC government has met with the oil and gas lobby 80 times a month!
The extent of the oil and gas lobby on this government is not debatable at all, it is clearly very influenced. In my mind, this is serious corruption.
Why would an environmentalist want to join, let alone lead such a party?
I stopped voting NDP in 2015; the BC NDP lost it's "progressive" credentials a long time ago, They haven't had an innovation progressive social policy idea for a very long time.