The dust has mostly settled on the fraught British Columbia NDP leadership race that wasn’t, and today, David Eby will be sworn in as the province’s next premier.

I had a rather unique, and sometimes stressful, vantage point on the BC NDP leadership contest. Both Dave Eby and Anjali Appadurai are my longtime friends (although hereon in I will stick with the customary use of surnames). I’ve known Eby since his early days with Pivot Legal in the Downtown Eastside. Our families have spent holiday time together and have shared in celebrating major life events. I’ve known and worked with Appadurai for over 10 years, and we are currently colleagues at the Climate Emergency Unit. And, full disclosure, I am also a proud board member with the much and falsely maligned B.C. non-profit Dogwood.

While this up-close perch leaves me with many insights and feelings about the leadership contest, the race is over. So now what? Rather than rehash what went down — suffice it to say, I strongly disagree with the justifications for Appadurai’s disqualification — I want to offer some thoughts about what should happen going forward.

In their own ways, both Eby and Appadurai represent a new generation of political leadership. It wasn’t long ago that Eby was seen as the anti-establishment standard-bearer, while Appadurai’s bid was clearly an insurgent campaign (in the best sense of the word) seeking to shake up the party.

I am very fond of them both and want to share a little about what I admire about each of them.

Eby can be bold and fearless, and he has proven time and again that he is capable of skilfully taking on complex files. Among his most admirable traits is that, once convinced of an issue, Eby is willing to bring on fights with the powerful: unscrupulous landlords; wealthy homeowners who dislike the NDP’s progressive property tax increases; the trial lawyers who opposed his needed reforms to ICBC (B.C.’s public auto insurance company); and even the police back in his days with Pivot and the BC Civil Liberties Association. In a world in which too many politicians don’t like to ruffle feathers and want to be universally liked, Eby hasn’t shied away from doing what is needed and right, even if it means “welcoming the hatred” of some powerful vested interests (to borrow a phrase from Franklin D. Roosevelt).

Eby is also notable for the ways in which he is prepared to take responsibility and be held accountable. While we are surrounded by political “leaders'' who prefer to finger-point on problems and buck-pass on solutions, Eby has frequently been willing to step forward and assume real leadership. When handed the infamous “dumpster fire” portfolio of ICBC, bleeding money and staring down heavy rate hikes, he committed to fixing the ailing Crown corporation, and did just that within two years.

When given the housing portfolio just as the Strathcona Park homeless encampment in East Vancouver was reaching a breaking point and every level of government seemed to be deflecting blame and pleading impotence, Eby declared: “I am responsible” and committed to find housing for everyone in the park within a few months. And now again, as he assumes the premiership at a time of record homelessness and despair in the Downtown Eastside, there is Eby saying the problems are too far away for the federal government and beyond the capacity of the city to contend with, so his government will “bottom line” an action plan. “The opportunity here is for the province to take a leadership role and say we will take responsibility,” Eby has declared. “We will co-ordinate this.”

As a team leader, Eby is calm, funny and supportive, which likely explains why so many of his caucus colleagues were so quick to endorse him.

What has been missing from Eby’s record, however, is a clear demonstration that he genuinely understands the climate crisis and is prepared to confront it at appropriate scale. Indeed, he has been reticent to utter the words “climate emergency,” and when pressed on this issue, he has defaulted to tired government talking points. For whatever reason, Eby has not yet shown an interest in taking on the fossil fuel companies with the same vigour he has deployed against other powerful forces.

"I dearly hope David Eby takes a bunch of Anjali Appadurai’s bold ideas and makes them his own." @sethdklein writes for @NatObserver #opinion #BCNDP #ClimateAction

In his July speech launching his leadership campaign, Eby could have stated how climate policy under his government would be different than under John Horgan’s, thereby sending a bat signal to disaffected climate voters. If he had, Appadurai’s insurgent campaign likely never would have happened. Instead, he declared there would be “no radical changes” under his leadership. In that moment, the die was cast — Appadurai and her supporters were galvanized to launch a challenge.

As for Appadurai’s leadership qualities, well, they are formidable, and many now see and understand why her past and present colleagues adore and admire her.

She, too, has shown a consistent willingness to be bold and courageous. And in the face of this tumultuous leadership contest, Appadurai stayed unswervingly and remarkably calm, cool and collected.

Appadurai has deep knowledge of climate policy (domestic and international) and an uncanny wisdom about movement-building. She is an outstanding public speaker and meeting facilitator, bringing grace, energy and inspiration to such roles. The leaders we most remember in times of emergency are those who are both forthright about the severity of the crisis and yet still manage to impart hope. And Appadurai has a remarkable ability as a communicator to walk that balance.

Her brief campaign saw Appadurai put out transformative ideas on health and climate policy (and according to her, democratic reform and economic justice platforms are still forthcoming). Appadurai is a genuine climate justice champion. In short, she was/is a deeply inspiring candidate.

Among the things that make Appadurai politically attractive is that she doesn’t actually crave power; rather, she is called to service. In truth, she was highly reluctant to run. It took a whole lot of urging by a host of climate activists, particularly young ones, to convince Appadurai to throw her hat in the ring and be their spokesperson.

And here’s another insider truth: Appadurai didn’t expect to win. She wanted to force a needed debate, push the party and its next premier to the left, up the government’s climate ambition and end the incoherence that marks the NDP’s climate and Indigenous justice policies.

When Appadurai was still considering her leadership bid, I was nervous. Among my concerns was that she would be crushed; that she would lose badly, potentially exposing the climate movement’s political weakness. But whatever one may think of the outcome, that clearly did not happen. Quite the opposite.

By Labour Day, it was clear that, as strong as Eby’s support was on the inside — securing the backing of virtually the entire BC NDP caucus — his campaign had severely misjudged the outside game. Indeed, everyone had, even Appadurai and her team to a degree.

Appadurai sensed all along that there existed a well of untapped public support for visionary leadership, and she wanted to demonstrate that to Eby and the NDP. But what occurred went beyond expectations. Appadurai’s campaign sparked an organic explosion in new and returning BC NDP memberships. In a time of deep disconnect between the urgency of the crises we face and what our politics seems prepared to entertain, Appadurai tapped into a hunger for leadership prepared to speak the truth and meet these poly-crises at scale.

And Appadurai’s bid did indeed move the party and B.C.’s next premier. In Eby’s first press conference after being acclaimed the new leader, where he outlined what to expect in his first 100 days, he stated, “We cannot continue to subsidize fossil fuels and expect clean energy to manifest somehow. We cannot continue to expand fossil-fuel infrastructure and hit our climate goals.”

These are promising and welcome words we have not heard from the incoming premier before. And with numerous LNG expansion proposals up for imminent approval, the first tests of these new commitments will not be long in coming.

At that same event, Eby also said, “I am very much looking forward to continuing conversation with Anjali… I am very committed to working with those folks and delivering, not just for them, but for all British Columbians.” That invitation hasn’t come yet, but ideally will.

Rumour had it, just before the leadership race was terminated, Eby’s campaign was about to release his climate platform. But with Eby’s acclamation, that release didn’t happen. It would be great to still see that plan. Hopefully, it contains some exciting new measures that can help to retain the faith of the climate-anxious voters who joined the NDP.

How can Premier Eby signal to the climate movement that his government will be different from that of his predecessor? A few key yet transformative policies would make a huge difference:

  • First, he could state clearly that B.C.’s climate targets leave no room for any new LNG projects. As numerous corporations and consortia continue to assemble LNG proposals for approval, Eby could let it be known that it would be disrespectful of their time and efforts to have them continue entertaining any notion that our climate plans can accommodate their bids.
  • Second, while it will take some time to retrofit and fuel-swap existing homes and buildings to make them carbon-zero, Eby could announce that, as of 2024, no new buildings will be allowed to tie into gas lines, a policy that would have both climate and public health benefits.
  • Third, he should acknowledge that, too often in B.C., the UNDRIP-enshrined rights of Indigenous Peoples have been violated by corporate interests. And going forward, when Indigenous rights and title are at odds with the desires of resource extraction and fossil fuel firms, the former will prevail.
  • Fourth, he would proclaim that “no one will be left behind,” and make a commitment that major government investments in climate infrastructure will ensure all fossil fuel workers and reliant communities will have well-paying jobs as we transition our economy.
  • And fifth, Eby should declare that his government will no longer be cozy with or captured by the fossil fuel industry. He will remove fossil fuel corporate reps from the province’s official Climate Solutions Council, and will no longer have fossil fuel lobbyists represent the party on major news and current affairs shows. Appadurai’s campaign exposed the outsized role of fossil fuel lobbyists within the BC NDP’s corridors of power; now Eby should toss them from the house.

There are, of course, many more climate policies I’d love to see. But combined, these five measures would send an important and electrifying signal.

British Columbians will be able to judge whether we have a new government in genuine climate emergency mode by the reaction of the fossil fuel companies. If companies like Shell Canada and FortisBC are expressing deep anxiety, then we will know a real climate plan is taking shape; if they remain calm and complimentary, then our climate plan is not fit for the task at hand.

In the ideal world, going forward, our new premier and Appadurai (and their respective supporters) can make common cause; they would unite to tackle the climate emergency and the growing impacts it is having on vulnerable communities and working people across B.C., and invite the enmity of the fossil fuel companies and their acolytes that seek to delay bold and urgent action.

Eby is becoming premier at an unenviable time. His desk will be piled high with priorities. His work tackling poverty, homelessness and a health-care system in dire circumstances will command virtually all his bandwidth.

Yet, the climate emergency must also claim some share of his attention, and not only because thousands of people desperate for action have joined his party and will either stay or quit based on how Eby proceeds. Extreme weather events, such as the devastating floods of a year ago this week, are only going to increase in frequency and severity. Years from now, this is the file upon which our children and grandchildren will judge us.

Some will no doubt say such an approach is too radical for the electorate. But politics is an unpredictable business.

Back in early 2013, every pundit and legislature reporter in B.C. were of the view that Adrian Dix could not lose that May election. Yet he did just that. His deeply uninspiring slogan — “One practical step at a time”­ — failed to offer a compelling vision and generated no constituency excited to go to the barricades. The same might be said of former Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart, who likewise just managed to steal defeat from the jaws of victory.

Young climate-concerned/panicked voters in the U.S. just played a pivotal role in saving the Democrats from a red wave in the midterms. Will a similar demographic do the same for the BC NDP in two years, or will they feel pushed away or abandoned? Eby inherited a party whose membership had dwindled to about 11,000 — people might have liked Horgan, but few were stirred to join his party. If Eby is going to take on a new round of powerful vested interests, he’s going to need a motivated movement of people inspired to back him up.

I dearly hope Eby takes a bunch of Appadurai’s bold ideas and makes them his own.

If instead, BC’s NDP government keeps meeting the defining crises of our time — the climate emergency, the health-care crisis, the deadly poison drug epidemic, the housing crisis — with more incrementalism, I fear they will lose the next election, setting us even further back on addressing these major interlocking crises.

They have two years to tell an exciting new story.

Keep reading

Excellent article. Thanks for illuminating this leadership story for the rest of Canada, and for offering a model climate platform for leaders everywhere to emulate.

Good analysis. I agree that what happened with NDP memberships clearly shows how many people are desperately longing for bold leadership right now to match the "polycrises" we're facing. A strong, new vision is definitely needed to inspire and bury the plodding incrementalism you speak of. Firstly how about addressing the accepted style for political language, starting with abandoning all of the infuriating and alienating political "talking points?" Instead, as Ezra Pound suggested with poetry, "make it new."
In that same truly "fresh" vein, the fact that the NDP party apparatus was responsible for blocking this game-changing phenomenon when it appeared, AND because the Green Party has lost all credibility, isn't it obvious that some re-branding of the party as the only vehicle is now needed? Names are important, so how about starting there by creating a rallying cry for progressives under one united banner? Eschew the usual narcissism of small differences, just more of the same incrementalism and foot-dragging that's holding back what needs to happen.
The name "NDP" conjures too many negative connotations after all these years, so why not circle the wagons on the left formally, setting the much-needed example for the current political reality where the right wing is such a clear and present danger? Sanction and then surpass the timid beginnings of this in the federal government with the "confidence and supply agreement" between them and the NDP how about? It's a classic "win-win."

I'm just curious as to your reasons for saying the Green Party has lost all credibility"; can you explain?

Yeah. At least, I don't think the BC Greens have. Their current leader seems like a good person and I'm unaware of any gaffes or party scandals. No real momentum or anything, but there's nothing wrong with them as Greens go.
The national Greens, on the other hand, seem to be total, massive screw-ups.

I’m of mixed feelings about Mr. Klein penning this article, given his prefacing disclosures. I hope there was some significant hand wringing by the editor before giving it the green light.

Much as there appeared to be a concerted effort by Mr. Klein at objectivity, the brief bios of the principals nonetheless came across as hagiography. Further, the reference to FDR’S defining “I welcome their hatred” moment is a tad premature, overly optimistic and, as yet, unearned, don’t you think, given the NDP’s history of being hardly standoffish to the extraction sector and more than willing to sacrifice species and ecosystems (not to mention financial sanity) for some jobs?

Mr. Klein chose not to include, in his “to do” list for Mr. Eby, any notion of looking for ways to actually reduce energy demand. For example, a new building code and rules for urban design aimed to reduce, nay, slash, not just net emissions, but energy consumption, however sourced, including embodied energy and emissions in construction materials.

Let’s be hopeful, sure, but, if for no other reason than humility, let’s save the accolades, and fawning comparisons to world-renowned leaders, for after-the-fact evaluation.

As yet unearned on climate, certainly. But the article notes things Eby has done on other issues which have earned a bit of hatred from some powerful groups. The money laundering stuff alone must have pissed off some people.

Fair enough.

However, while I am happy to see some basic level of anti-corruption law established in an attempt to keep illicity wealth out of the property market (with broad negative impacts on regular people), it is a reflection of current mores that the developer community, write large, appears not to care about the sources of funds used to buy their projects and give them huge profits; "keep them coming", in fact. British Columbians (Canadians) seem inured to -- while, perhaps, feeling impotent to fight -- now normalized corruption in corporations, and the politcal parties and governments that they have captured.

Interesting that you choose the word "humility" because I'd say that kind of encapsulates the problem with the left because for starters, as is often the case with most virtue-signalling, holier than thou people, it's FALSE humility. To answer your question about my view of the Green Party is that it ends up after all these years and in the context of this necessarily binary political climate primarily being another vote-splitter like the NDP which we can no longer afford.
We've been around this bush enough times now to know where the majority of people in Canada are, "progressive-wise" and the upshot is that we are the majority and so await the political parties evolution to where they put aside their narcissism of small differences and unite (I keep saying this and challenge you to tell me how, under the unique, dire circumstances that isn't the case; people really need to grow up and put aside voting as a form of personal expression, it's ultimately utilitarian at this point, not to mention existential.) The only reason the cons got anywhere was because they did that, and we ARE supposed to be the smart ones.
Mr. Klein has a valid, recent reference point now with what happened when actual, inspiring leadership showed up and was squashed. He's right, the Leap Manifesto was right, the Green New Deal is right, so no more insipid "uber-tolerance," light a fire and LEAD.
And speaking of trying to "out-tolerate" each other, it's why the Green Party is dead in the water btw. They've gone down a rabbit hole full of novelty and new horizons for what constitutes a human being relative to gender, indeed a wonderful idea, but I saw an interview years ago with Katie Couric and a group of young transgender people where she rightly pointed out that there is a "learning curve." That takes time, and we all saw gay people ascend to deserved respectability and wide acceptance, but it took decades after all, but they keep hammering away at it because that 30-40% of us who are conservatives still don't really buy it, but they probably never will! They just don't do "change," it's something we've all seen a lot of lately and is apparently related to differences in their brains, (google "conservative brain") a bigger amygdala or something. It's also what disqualifies them from good governance of a modern society like ours.
Finally, as an example, I talked to a young, distresed transgender woman at a conference a couple of years ago. She showed up at every session complaining about not getting anywhere near enough acceptance or recognition of her/their place in society. I felt much empathy, but pointed out that WOMEN still aren't actually sorted yet so the truth was that she/they might just have to "get in line."

Tris Partager, thanks for your comments.

Regarding the federal Green Party (and I think it useful to differentiate the federal and provincial parties), I am of the opinion that the implosion that occurred in 2021 was, more than anything, indicative of organizational immaturity and the defensive personal responses that arose from that party immaturity. In any case, it is clearly indicative of some major failing when a party response to a (known-to-be-vexatious-but-outside-the-raison d’être-of-the-party) international issue, and the internal reaction to that response, causes the party to self-destruct. What thinking person would consider voting to put such reactionary behaviour, and the subsequent public airing of indignant, “holier than thou” (to use your term) responses anywhere near the levers of power? (And I say this this as someone who volunteered for a Green candidate in the last federal election).

There’s also, perhaps, a (slim?? “never say never”?? I don’t know.) possibility of some monkeywrenching done within the Green Party by outside forces when it became obvious that support for the party was growing. There is certainly strategically-minded, backroom bench-strength in established parties that this should not be pooh-poohed out of hand. The choice of the New Brunswick Green MP to cross the floor, for example, has never made much sense to me.

Does anyone of a progressive persuasion believe that the Liberal Party of Canada and the, former, Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (you’ll have to be at least 30, if not 40, I imagine, to have an opinion on the latter), contains/contained people holding homogeneous beliefs? Not so. Those parties are (though, perhaps less so, now, the LPC?) and were, coalitions; e.g. the LPC and the PCP used to have both left/red and right/blue wings. Though, it seems, the LPC now has, simply, the single, my-way-or-the-highway PMO wing.

Regarding the coalescing/splitting of the “progressive” vote.

I would like to believe that there is sufficient overlap between “green” thinking and the "social democrat" belief system of the, in this case, BC provincial NDP party, that such a coalition could be formed. However, I don’t see it, at present. The NDP policies regarding industrialization, resource exploitation and the degree of concern (pretty much none) for the ecosystems of BC, in my reading, haven’t differed much from the laissez-faire, capitalist extractors currently fronted, politically, by the BC “Liberal” Party. Sure, Green Party supporters could simply join the NDP but that would cause the marginalization of any sort of concern for the ecosphere.

Further, by staying a separate entity, the Green Party can attract not only some voters who would otherwise vote for the NDP, but also some electors who sooner jump off the Lions Gate Bridge than vote NDP and may, thusly, otherwise vote for the BC "Liberals".

The (overly) simple answer, of course, is proportional representation.

Until that happens (on the 1st of Never?), it is my belief that the Green Party – both federally and, in BC, provincially -- ought to focus on “in their wheelhouse” policy discussions/proposals, and fielding and supporting solid candidates in a small (10-20%? Just to pick a number) number of ridings across the jurisdiction in competitive ridings with the objective of holding a balance of power. (By limiting the number of candidates, electors needn't be restrained by "I want to vote Green but don't, yet, want them to lead the gov't" strategic concerns). Assuming success, the parties can then build upon that to become more respectable, reliable, and worthy of a vote, in the minds of the electorate.

This last, incremental strategy seems to similar to your thoughts regarding acceptance of non-binary gender.

Thoughts?

A major ommision, for which I apologize. Let me amend a sentence.

From:

"The NDP policies regarding industrialization, resource exploitation and the degree of concern (pretty much none) for the ecosystems of BC,"

To:

"The NDP policies regarding industrialization, resource exploitation, First Nations relations and reconciliation, and the degree of concern (pretty much none) for the ecosystems of BC,"

Thanks for your comments Ken. I think you have to pab out to the big picture before us which is that conservative orcs very much lurk dangerously at the gates and recall that the Liberals are only able to act more or less "progressively" because of the agreement with the NDP. In that always more cumbersome than is understood context Stephen Guilbeault is the real deal (appointed by Trudeau remember) and is heading toward a cap on emissions.
There used to be regular talk about uniting the left but in the current social media climate powered by tons of self-important/self-indulgent/self-expression even in vitally important politics people gravitate thoughtlessly and irresponsibly toward that "narcissism of small differences" thing I mentioned. You haven't addressed that fundamental narcissism or the reality before us that has never been more stark or threatening. It's now them or us, period. So it should be all hands on deck to keep them at bay and if more of us could just grasp the situation and quit scattering our precious, sane forces we could all bloody well sleep at night. Even this confidence/supply agreement has helped that tremendously.
Do you know that sayin, "there are two kinds of people in the world?" Turns out that may have merit.

Well, maybe don't "pab" out but "pan out?" Laugh emoji.

If the new climate ideas that she was proposing had never been put before the public at all, that's one thing. But they were basically all in the Green Party platform, which had just been tested on the anvil of real public opinion in a general election...and those ideas - cancelling all those fossil-related infrastructure projects - got the Greens two seats.

If you can only win two seats in the general, you have no business, morally, in imposing that platform upon the public anyway, by purchasing a few thousand memberships.

The whole Canadian system of being able to vote in a new party leader by signing up a lot of people who have no party background, is nuts. In Quebec, it led to 4000 dairy farmers taking over one party for just long enough to shut down any planks that would have harmed dairy profits, then leaving. That's just nuts, and I'm glad a "party takeover" was shut down in BC.

And, not just because I think we have to live with fossil long enough for it to power the transition; the whole principle of that takeover was antidemocratic. Win a general.

A take-over? I think it is known as "following the rules".

The system you refer to is not a "Canadian" system; the rules weren't legislated, as far as I know. Are the rules for participating in a party not written by the party? If the rules lead to unpleasant outcomes, then change the rules.

What sort of party background would you like to see before one is able to either run for a leadership poisition or vote in such an election?

The UK tory party, as another example of dodgy processes, is demonstrating its own version of serial monogamy, without subsequently calling an election to allow the electorate its say on its new PM.

I think you probably have a point Roy, but now we'll never know. The public IS often ahead of the political process. The impatience that people have is understandable under the circumstances though. But I'm reminded of a documentary I saw on women getting the vote in the States and the takeaway was that big changes need both revolutionary impatience AND methodical orderliness to actually work and avoid anarchy.

They obviously also need leadership as the Occupy Wall Street movement demonstrated, which this NDP leadership race DID have.