Could the politically unbelievable happen?
Might we soon have NDP Premier Anjali Appadurai?
Sources in the party say her campaign has persuaded significantly more British Columbians to buy NDP memberships than did rival David Eby’s campaign by the Sept. 4 deadline in order to be eligible to vote for a new leader in December.
That suggests Eby, considered only six weeks ago a shoo-in to win the party title and become its next premier in succeeding John Horgan, will need to depend now on the overwhelming support of those who were already party members when the leadership campaign began.
On the surface that appears an easy task. Eby has held key cabinet posts and secured the broad backing of the provincial caucus. Those who might have thought of contesting the leadership race conceded it to him and pledged support.
But many of the longer-term members have expressed disappointment that the party under Horgan moved toward the centre of the political spectrum in governing. They would view Appadurai, a noted environmentalist who has waged a campaign to shift the party further to the left on climate change and social justice policy, as a more authentic advocate to deal with those issues.
In part, this serious threat has prompted Eby’s campaign into a much more intense footing in recent days, with a spate of plans for policy promises. It has not gone unnoticed that his statements have an increased emphasis on issues his rival champions.
Among other contributors to her sudden success, Appadurai’s campaign appears to have capitalized on NDP campaign rules that permit voting members as young as 12. It is common to see teens at her events, presumably eager to cast their first votes.
Considerably complicating the situation is that she has yet to be officially approved as a candidate, pending two investigations by the party and Elections BC on whether the environmental group Dogwood improperly used its resources to finance her campaign.
The longer that these reviews take – particularly the internal party review – the more her supporters believe there is another reason to withhold approval of her candidacy. They assert it might well be that, once the influx of new members is counted, she and not Eby would emerge with the advantage in the race.
Neither camp has specific numbers, but sources believe Appadurai’s campaign recruited about 10,000 members, perhaps two or three times more than did Eby. The party is believed to have had roughly 11,000 members entering the leadership campaign.
As an indication of this new cohort joining the party, an MLA and a riding association official told me there were suddenly large and unrecognizable names on their local membership lists. Typically, they say, they would know personally or know of a large number of local members.
As part of the response to her rise, many in the party’s establishment have orchestrated a significant effort to degrade Appadurai’s candidacy, qualifications and competence, even though many of those people were heralding her last year when she ran and narrowly lost federally in Vancouver-Granville. They have noted that she would not have a seat in the legislature and would be a raw rookie guiding the ship. Of course, generally in these circumstances an MLA would step aside to permit a byelection to give a new leader the opportunity to secure a seat in the legislature.
It is unlikely they would have brought this negative attention to her now if she weren’t a serious threat to the assumption that Eby was headed for a coronation.
To be fair about the context: Leadership campaigns are often messy matters. Membership drives are typically riven with playing outside the sandbox with false information and hidden expenses. No party has fulfilled anything close to purity on these issues.
In broad outline, the allegations against the Appadurai campaign include one that Dogwood as a third-party entity used its resources to boost her support by sending emails and texts to encourage its own membership to join the NDP, even to leave the Green Party to do so. Parties typically don’t permit members to hold membership beyond theirs, although there can be exceptions.
Additionally, an official with the 350.org group was on social media offering to pay the $10 membership fee if anyone needed help. Under B.C. elections law, no one can pay for anyone else’s membership unless it is within that person’s overall political contributions of about $1,200 per candidate. Appadurai quickly disavowed that offer to pay, just as she has asserted her campaign has never breached the rules.
Anything more by the party than a slight slap on her wrist – certainly anything approaching a disqualification of her candidacy – would ignite a firestorm in the party and would be a grave mistake as a signal to the thousands who joined. This is nothing like the BC Liberals’ disqualification of Aaron Gunn in its leadership race. And this is, after all, a party that prides itself on grassroots. It would be no small irony if it suffocated exactly one of those movements.
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.