Will BC’s next premier be from the North or Interior – not likely

Written By Rob Shaw

If you’re a long-suffering New Democrat from B.C.’s North or Interior, hoping that the surprise resignation of John Horgan might give way to a premier who pays more attention to your region — well, you may be in for a disappointing leadership race.

There’s only one person who might shift the BC NDP’s attention north: Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen. And right now he’s playing coy about whether he plans to run for leader at all.

“Never say never because that’s a foolish thing to say.”

Nathan Cullen

“I would repeat the advice the late Jack Layton gave me at one point in my career: ‘Whenever somebody asks if you are running for office or leadership or anything, say thank you, first of all, because it’s a compliment, and never say never because that’s a foolish thing to say and you don’t know,’” Cullen said Wednesday when asked if he intended to run.

“My focus right now, honestly, is the work we have at hand.”

Cullen, the newly appointed Municipal Affairs minister, is the only name from the province’s North floating around as a potential contender for the top job, so far.

There’s two reasons for that.

First, besides the MLAs north of Victoria on Vancouver Island, the BC NDP has almost no rural MLAs outside of Cullen — only Brittny Anderson in Nelson-Creston, Harwinder Sandhu in Vernon-Monashee, Roly Russell in Boundary-Similkameen, Katrine Conroy in Kootenay East and Jennifer Rice in North Coast.

A non-MLA would face a near-insurmountable battle to convince members of their viability to be premier.

Rules favour urban candidates

Secondly, the rules of the party’s leadership race will heavily favour candidates from Metro Vancouver.

That’s because the one-member-one-vote system the New Democrat Party will use relies heavily on candidates conducting mass membership sign-ups, which often tend to focus heavily on several key ethnic communities in the Lower Mainland.

The party’s leadership race will heavily favour candidates from Metro Vancouver.

Those who can flood the party with new members guaranteed to vote for them stand a better chance of winning than those who only rely on convincing the existing membership base. The province’s more rural areas, quite simply, don’t have the population required to tilt the race under a one-member-one-vote system.

Despite those points, some might still see the race as a way to revitalize the NDP’s presence in rural communities and gain newfound momentum for the North under a new leader.

Breakneck timeframe

But the intense speed of the leadership race may not make that possible either.

Even though the vote is scheduled for the fall, there’s a 90-day cut-off for new members prior to voting day under the BC NDP constitution.

It doesn’t sound like much, but when you start working out dates you begin to realize that a Nov. 1 vote would mean a cut-off for new memberships of Aug. 1, leaving only one month in July for campaigns to conduct mass signups.

Horgan quit June 28, and most campaigns haven’t even mobilized their teams yet. Meeting that breakneck organizing speed will be nearly impossible for all but the top contenders with deep pockets and vast networks in member-rich Metro Vancouver.