New Democrats off to disastrously self-destructive start

The New Democrats’ stumbling start to the leadership race should leave loyalists in despair and raise questions – again – about the sense in forcing Carole James out as leader.
The contest has barely begun and it has been hit with a divisive scandal.
To be eligible to vote in the April 17 leadership ballot, people had to join the party by 5 p.m. last Monday.
All the campaign teams had scrambled to sign up new members who would vote for their candidate. They carted in completed membership applications – each accompanied by the required donation – through the day.
But organizers for Adrian Dix showed up with big batches of memberships and separate piles of cash, then started attaching the money to the application forms.
Candidates Harry Lali and Mike Farnworth both cried foul, Lali most vigorously.
The complaints were that the memberships weren’t submitted with the money, as required, and that the Dix workers were still pulling the material together after the 5 p.m. deadline.
But the fear was that the Dix campaign had undertaken a campaign of mass sign-ups of instant members in South Asian ethnic communities. The stacks of cash raised questions about whether the new party members had actually made the required donations themselves or whether the campaign was picking up the tab.
It’s a common political tactic. Send some well-connected operatives into a close-knit community, sign up hundreds or thousands of members, and you can control a riding association or a leadership race.
It’s also destructive. The instant members disappear the day after the vote. Real party members find they’ve been elbowed out of the process, so they drift away. Supporters of losing candidates feel cheated. And the party is left, in many cases, with a leader without real support.
The New Democrats hoped to reduce the problems by setting an early deadline for new members who would be eligible to vote. It didn’t seem to work.
The other candidates are right to be concerned.
The NDP had something like 12,000 members when James was ousted. The numbers have climbed as candidates signed up new members, but an influx of several thousand instant members supporting one contender could tip the scales. The race could be over before real party members were even sure who was running.
NDP provincial secretary Jan O’Brien ruled the memberships were valid. They got there before 5 p.m. even if they weren’t complete by that time.
O’Brien acknowledged the rules issued to all the candidates said each membership must be submitted with individual payments attached, but she had now decided that was a “redundant, internal process.” She woudn’t enforce the rules.
At best, the New Democrats look like bunglers, setting campaign rules – which most candidates played by – and then ignoring them.
And at worst, the party looks to be condoning mass sign-ups paid for by third parties and favouring one candidate over the others.
Farnworth said he accepts the ruling; Lali says he hasn’t ruled out legal action over the memberships.
The party might be able to satisfy both with a pledge to contact a large sample of the new members to establish if they actually joined and made the required personal donation.
It’s hard to see any renewal in all this, which the anti-James people said they were looking for.
The four leading candidates are holdovers from the Clark government of the 1990s. Farnworth and Lali were in cabinet; Horgan and Dix were political staffers, with stints in the premier’s office. Dix resigned after faking a document in an attempt to help deflect attention from Clark in the casino scandal. Only Nicholas Simons is a relatively new face and he is a long shot.
The race is already tainted with scandal and allegations of fraud.
And the Liberals, I expect, are very pleased.
Footnote: The Liberals are looking wise in having adopted a process that gives each riding 100 votes, no matter how many members it has. The votes are allocated based on a constituency vote. This reduces the benefits of mass sign-ups and gives candidates from outside the Lower Mainland, where sign-ups are easier, a better chance.

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