The extraordinary self-own that was the BC NDP’s leadership contest has once again raised the question: Can’t parties do this any better? Does every leadership race have to devolve into a blundering, scandal-filled, mess?
It’s not just an NDP phenomenon. It has been pretty much par for the course for every political party in the last two decades.
Remember the 2018 BC Liberal race, when Todd Stone’s campaign was caught improperly signing up (mainly non-English-speaking) members using email addresses that could have given the campaign access to people’s online voting PINs?
Or, the 2011 Liberal race, in which Christy Clark’s team was accused of gathering up voting data from supporters and then holding “PIN parties” where campaign staff voted en masse for Clark using people’s information?
Or, the 2011 NDP race, where backbencher Mable Elmore was caught stapling cash to membership forms for Adrian Dix, in apparent flagrant violation of the party’s rules that people have to pay for their own sign-ups?
Or, the 2003 NDP race, where the NDP changed from a delegated vote system, heavily-controlled by unions, to a one-member-one-vote structure, sparking months of internal fighting, public declarations of calamity and expectations of scandal?
Tainted from day one
Every time there is a party leadership race, there is controversy over members, signups and voting. The result is that the new leader, whomever they may be, is tainted from day one on the job.
It does not have to be this way.
The phenomenon is once again on display in the 2022 BC NDP leadership race, after front-runner David Eby’s only rival, climate activist Anjali Appadurai, was disqualified by party executives Wednesday night.
Appadurai was accused of signing up thousands of members who were already part of the BC Green party, as well as improperly coordinating with third-party groups like the Dogwood Initiative — but Appadurai said the rules were inconsistently applied by party brass in order to help Eby win after she signed up more members than his campaign.
Eby emerged with a hollow victory and a badly-divided party. He was forced to admit “there are a bunch of people out there who are really sad about how this leadership campaign ended and that is concerning to me.”
“This is not how any of us expected this leadership contest to end,” he added.
The easiest solution to all of these messes would be for BC’s political parties to give Elections BC more oversight of their leadership races.
Right now, parties set their own rules, create their own enforcement mechanisms and choose how hard (if at all) to investigate wrongdoing. Elections BC is basically limited to enforcing provincial donation and expense limits.
Time for more oversight?
What if, instead, the non-partisan elections agency was in charge of administering the leadership races, auditing the new membership sign-ups and ensuring compliance with a basic set of campaign rules shared by BC’s political parties?
That would create an even playing field, a standard set of rules and an independent overseer to make it work — before it all implodes.
Political parties would have to be convinced to give up some control over what are currently private clubs. But if the public is giving parties millions in per-vote subsidies (a change made after the NDP banned corporate and union donations in 2018) then the public should demand some oversight in exchange for the money.
Most embarrassing leadership contest
BC New Democrats don’t appear to be interested in the idea. But they should be, because this most recent leadership race was one of the most embarassing in provincial history.
BC Liberal Kevin Falcon said he’d be fine with the change.
“I’d be open to having oversight,” he said Thursday. “That wouldn’t offend me at all. I wouldn’t have any problem with that at all.”
The idea has some public support as well, according to a poll by Research Co. in March.
An online survey found 63 per cent of people agree with using an independent professional accounting firm to administer leadership races for provincial political parties, and 53 per cent supported Elections BC doing the job.
Political strategist Diamond Isinger, who most recently managed the Michael Lee campaign in this year’s BC Liberal leadership race (which had its own complaints about the race at the time), has been a vocal advocate of the idea of Elections BC oversight. She’s picked up support from strategists of other political stripes.
“So, now can I interest y’all in the multi-partisan quest to have Elections BC oversee #bcpoli leaderships so we can be done with this madness?” Isinger tweeted Wednesday, amidst the firestorm of online debate over Appadurai’s disqualification.
“End self-policing. Empower an agency that already runs fair/open elections as their sole function.”
It’s a good idea, whose time has come. Two decades of scandal-filled party leadership contests is enough.