Anjali Appadurai says she knows she’s upset the New Democratic Party establishment, but that shouldn’t keep her out of the race for the party leadership.
The former federal NDP candidate entered the contest to succeed retiring Premier John Horgan in August with promises of transformative change on environmental and social issues, but has yet to receive official approval of her candidacy.
A party decision on Appadurai’s candidacy is expected Wednesday following reviews of membership sign-up concerns connected to her campaign launched by the NDP and Elections BC, the legislature’s independent, non-partisan office responsible for administering electoral processes in the province.
So far, only David Eby, the NDP government’s former attorney general and minister responsible for housing, has officially been approved as a candidate to succeed Horgan on Dec. 3, when the leadership vote is scheduled.
To become British Columbia’s premier, the party’s next leader must also have the support of elected members in the legislature.
“My candidacy has come as a surprise to many,” Appadurai said in an interview. “I’m not your typical candidate. I know that I came out of the blue and I have not been in government before.”
But the 32-year-old human rights and climate advocate said entering the leadership race puts issues of concern on a larger stage.
“I really hope we get to have that conversation publicly,” said Appadurai. “What I’m trying to do here is open a conversation, a very frank conversation.”
She said she’s hoping she’s not denied the opportunity to get out her message to supporters, the party and the province.
Elections BC and the NDP have said they received complaints about B.C. environmental group Dogwood suggesting its members could sign up as members of the NDP by Sept. 4 to vote in the leadership contest, and about whether its involvement represents a proscribed political contribution.
An investigation is also underway into allegations an Appadurai supporter offered to pay for $10 NDP memberships.
Appadurai said she doesn’t have details on the exact number of new NDP memberships her campaign has secured, but has heard it could be as high as 14,000.
“When I announced my candidacy, a really beautiful, decentralized, organic movement started to grow,” she said. “We are hearing dozens and dozens of stories of people who signed up their book clubs, who signed up their circle of friends or got their friends and family together and talked about politics.”
The NDP said in a statement it would not reveal party membership numbers and did not confirm reports from the party’s most recent convention where a membership number of 11,000 was reported.
NDP spokeswoman Heather Libby said the leadership race currently has one confirmed candidate, Eby, and a meeting is set for Wednesday about Appadurai’s campaign.
“A complaint was registered about the one candidate’s campaign and an investigation is ongoing by our leadership chief electoral officer,” she said in an interview. “We’re taking it very seriously.”
The NDP’s provincial director, Heather Stoutenburg, said in a statement the leadership race and candidates are governed by party rules.
“Our democratically elected provincial executive is the body responsible for developing the rules under which candidates are nominated, and determining whether or not those candidates are approved,” she said.
Elections BC said it is conducting a review of complaints it has received, but the process has yet to complete.
“We are reviewing activities conducted by Dogwood BC to ensure political contribution rules under the Election Act are being followed,” said the statement. “Our review is ongoing and we have not come to any conclusions in this matter.”
Dogwood was not immediately available for comment.
But an editorial opinion piece on its website in August included advice on how to “help elect a premier for the climate emergency.”
It suggested its members could sign up for the NDP or renew their party membership by Sept. 4 to vote in the leadership race.
Appadurai said the NDP should be welcoming the new party members instead of conducting an investigation.
She said she did not support “the suspicious way” in which the new members were being treated.
Appadurai said that for many, “their first communication with the first party that they’ve become a member of is a questioning of their loyalty and a questioning of their motives.”
The NDP confirmed it approached the B.C. Green Party to allow a neutral third party to review each party’s membership lists to ensure “the integrity of our membership lists and our internal constitutional processes,” amid suggestions that Greens were quitting the party in order to vote in the NDP leadership ballot.
Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the party rejected the NDP offer.
“We said, ‘No,’” she said. “We had no expectations or intentions of being involved in their leadership race at all.”
The NDP should be celebrating new members, but “they have turned that into a problem and tried to point to us,” said Furstenau, adding Green membership has dropped by fewer than 90 people since the start of the NDP leadership race.
Appadurai said she supports all efforts to ensure the legitimacy of the members she signed up.
She said she’s confident her leadership bid will receive NDP approval.
“What we have learned is there’s a tremendous appetite for the values and the type of leadership I’m signalling in my candidacy,” Appadurai said.
—Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press