Thursday, January 20, 2011

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.


ron wilton said...

Would not a simple follow up by telephone confirm the validity of the last minute recruits?
Surely there are volunteers for that task.

Norm Farrell said...

Is Harry Lali complaining about rules not being observed? Didn't he recently participate in a campaign that disrespected and disavowed not just the council and executive rules but the constitution as well, the fundamental document of the group.

Personally, I did not regard Carole James as a particularly effective leader but I kept repeating that an organization is in big trouble when its members pick and choose which rules they are willing to follow.

Lali has always tested the bounds of hypocrisy so perhaps it is not surprising that he takes his current position where he asks for new memberships to be thrown out for a possible rules violation.

Anonymous said...

The media frenzy over the NDP sign-up issue is an example of how the Liberals have been able to use their influence among the MSM to their advantage. The Liberals have their own sign-up issues going on (see Harvey Oberfeld's blog), but the MSM conveniently have ignored that in favour of goring their favorite ox, the NDP. For any real journalist, the Liberal's sign-up book shortage story would be a natural juxtaposition to investigate, but the public hear nothing on this subject. I wonder why???

Warren White
Gordon Head, Victoria

DPL said...

The press leaves the Liberals alone, and one of the reasons is that big business advertises quite a lot, and of course big business doesn't like, nor has never liked the NDP. Too bad Carole James could never figure that out

Anonymous said...

Norm's remarks above are spot on - Harry Lali and the dissenting minority of MLAs have no right to complain about rules violations.

That won't stop them from going to the media and lighting their hair on fire whenever it suits their purposes - no matter what happens to the party their interests remain paramount.

Eventually they'll be the only ones left.

paul said...

Warren White:
You're mistaken in saying the media have ignored the Liberal signup book issue and the public has heard "nothing" o the subject. The Sun reported on it almost a week before Oberfeld. (

Anonymous said...


Thanks for pointing the story out - I missed it. However, just the fact that it flew below my radar (and I assume, others) suggests to me that it didn't get anywhere near the wide dispersal and in-depth coverage of the NDP's sign-up issue. No follow-up. Also no mention within these stories on the NDP that the Liberals also had sign-up process issues. Just cell-phone video and suggestions of illegalities. Juicy tidbits. The natural balance within a story an unbiased media would strive for, no?

Warren White

kootcoot said...

Yes Paul, thanks for pointing out the story, as so often with stories that don't make the LIEberals look like heroes, they don't exactly jump out at you, nor are they harangued to death on air by Keith Balderdash, Bill "not so" Good et. al. Indeed, often anything the least bit embarrassing to the Libs that appears in what used to be Canned Wasteland finds itself in one of the community papers also under corporate control, rather than one of the sinking Flagship Dailies.

Another handy trick of the Lower Mainland/Island Lamestream is to put a story in a completely inappropriate section that makes no sense, like a political story in Lifestyles or buried where someone who might be interested would never think to look - kinda like the underhanded mis-direction used by the AG's online sorry excuse for court schedules, which often bear no relation to the actual date or location even.

But if called on it, like Warren above re: the sign-up books, some defender of lax journalistic standards can always point out where it was hidden and underplayed and say "See, everything's cool!"

The fact is all we hear is a constant drumbeat about the state of internal strife in the NDP. Well, don't forget that Gordon the Campbell didn't exactly decide to step down as emperor because he was tired of being dictator. I would hope some fault lines will become apparent (they are there) in the Liberal camp, if any of the candidates step out from parroting the Campbell Creed and actually address the real issues other than silly distractions like children voting or new holidays. Of course it is difficult to ask many questions of candidates who tend to avoid all but the most controlled opportunities to meet the public.