BC NDP ‘fixer’ quietly changed leadership rules mid-race
Elections BC closes review of complaints against Dogwood
Elections BC has now confirmed it will not investigate Dogwood’s signup drive in the BC NDP leadership race. In our democracy, third-party organizations like unions, churches and NGOs are allowed to encourage their supporters to join political parties. We followed the law.
How then could the BC NDP use Dogwood’s campaign to discredit and ultimately disqualify leadership candidate Anjali Appadurai? The answer lies in the fact that leadership races are run by political parties – not B.C.’s independent election regulator. Parties set their own rules and can change them on the fly, as the BC NDP did three times starting August 31.
The party’s appointed ‘chief electoral officer’ was Elizabeth Cull. Cull is not a judge or a lawyer, but a former NDP politician turned lobbyist for Hill+Knowlton. Faced with a huge surge of signups, Cull’s task was to find a way to ensure those new members never got the chance to decide who should lead their party.
Cull accomplished her mission with a damning ‘report’ that was leaked to media the day before party executives met to vote on Appadurai’s disqualification. Although Dogwood is mentioned 98 times in the document, our organization was never contacted by Cull or given a chance to respond.
Party executives based their decision to disqualify on the Cull report alone, not allowing Appadurai to speak at the meeting or address the accusations against her. The axe came down October 19, ending the leadership race.
Step into the time machine
The evening of August 6, former federal NDP candidate Anjali Appadurai was weighing a huge decision: whether to throw her hat in the ring to replace outgoing premier John Horgan. She invited about 100 people to a Zoom meeting, including colleagues and friends from the climate movement whom she had worked with over her career.
There was no Appadurai campaign when the meeting began. But if she was going to run, two sets of rules would apply: The Election Act, administered by Elections BC. And the BC NDP’s Regulations Governing the 2022 BC NDP Leadership Election Campaign, ratified by the party’s provincial council on July 16.
Dogwood staff had been in contact with Elections BC compliance officers since June, asking their advice in case there was a contested race for premier. They told us a party leadership race is not considered an election period, and no restrictions applied to communication with our own supporters. They confirmed we could contact Dogwood’s own e-mail list and encourage people to join the BC NDP.
Meanwhile, the BC NDP’s leadership rules barred constituency associations and party committees from spending money on behalf of a candidate. But at that point in August, they placed no restrictions on outside third parties like Dogwood. You can still download those rules from the BC NDP website.
This openness exists because third parties are integral to democracy in B.C. Having unions and other organizations drive participation in a leadership race is healthy and normal. Dogwood didn’t go looking for loopholes – we did the same thing third parties have done for decades, to give more people a voice in the political institutions that shape all of our lives. But the ground was shifting beneath our feet.
Retroactive rule changes
I was invited to the August 6 Zoom meeting and asked how Dogwood supporters might react to a candidate with Appadurai’s values running for the highest office in the province. Although Appadurai hadn’t decided yet, I knew our supporters were excited by the prospect of a leadership race, and many former BC NDP members told us they were ready to sign up again – if there was an actual debate about oil and gas expansion.
I said if the BC NDP held a contested leadership vote, we would work until the signup deadline encouraging people to take out a membership. That is what Dogwood did. After Appadurai announced her bid, Dogwood staff and volunteers phoned, texted and e-mailed our supporters, letting them know there was a race, who was running and how to sign up if they wanted a vote. This internal signup drive was conducted independent of any candidate’s leadership campaign.
Unlike other third parties active in this race, Dogwood never sent our supporters to a candidate’s campaign. Every link we sent out was to the BC NDP’s general membership signup page. We shared no data, lists, money or other paid resources with any candidate. We encouraged people to vote with climate change as a top priority, as we do in every election.
NDP members never got the chance to compare the candidates on climate – or most issues. That’s because the party ended the race before the scheduled debates. Neither candidate had time to release their full platform. That said, Appadurai’s campaign clearly electrified youth and other voters desperate for leadership in the climate emergency. She pulled no punches when it came to her own party’s record. And that is what made her a threat.
Appadurai’s written submission to the party in her own defence reveals that Cull updated the leadership race rules no less than three times in ‘CEO bulletins’ sent to candidates. But these rule changes were never posted publicly, and certainly not sent to Dogwood.
Appadurai wrote: “the CEO wrote new rules and issued them on August 31, and then went back and investigated us for things that happened weeks before, and found that we had broken rules around third parties that didn’t even exist at the time of the events in question […] there is no other plausible explanation other than that the rules were written to lay the ground for the disqualification process now underway.”
Cull states that “Dogwood used paid resources to sign up members for Ms. Appadurai at her request.” That’s not true. Appadurai never asked Dogwood to sign up members, for her or otherwise. Our plan to contact our own supporters predated any candidate joining the race. Elections BC okayed our use of paid callers back in June.
Cull insinuates that Dogwood’s “paid ads to the public” contravened B.C.’s campaign finance laws. This is easily proven false. Dogwood ran only one ad about the leadership race, over the Labour Day weekend right before the deadline for new members to sign up to the BC NDP. It didn’t mention or picture any candidate. Again, it linked only to the party’s general signup page.
However, this ad does count as third-party political advertising because it was placed during an unrelated election period: the late summer by-election to replace outgoing Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux. Again, Dogwood sought guidance from Elections BC before placing the ad.
This time a compliance officer advised that because the ad promoted membership in the NDP, we would need to register as a third-party advertiser and disclose the amount spent. We registered. The deadline for that report is in December, but our publicly-available Facebook Ad library confirms the placement cost was well under the by-election spending limit of $3,468.
Throughout the course of the leadership race, hundreds of BC NDP members volunteered their time on the different campaigns. Many of those people have day jobs. Some of them work for organizations that met with candidates, issued endorsements or ran third-party membership drives during the leadership race. All of that is legal, and common practice in party politics.
After the Appadurai campaign launched, the nascent campaign team asked Dogwood staff to help them with basic tasks like copy-editing. I and Alexandra Woodsworth agreed, and both volunteered a few hours outside work time in August. At that point in the race there was nothing in the rules to give us pause.
Dogwood staff never held decision-making roles in the Appadurai campaign, and stopped volunteering before Cull’s August 31 rule change. Nonetheless, Cull retroactively accused Appadurai of “improper coordination” with Dogwood and other third parties, zeroing in on the August 6 Zoom meeting. Such are the powers of an internally-appointed party election regulator.
Cull reserves her most passionate condemnation for what she calls the “corruption” of the party’s voter list due to the “solicitation of fraudulent memberships by Dogwood”. These are serious-sounding accusations that were repeated many times in news articles and on social media. But what actually happened?
When the leadership race started, membership in the BC NDP was open to any B.C. resident 12 and older with $10 to give the party. Thousands of new and returning members signed up. By the end of the race, 7,000 of those members had been targeted by the BC NDP and subjected to a voter suppression campaign designed to identify people who had previously “supported” other political parties.
Someone told me they were asked by the caller, "Have you always voted NDP?" https://t.co/J964SIdOfc
— Amanda Follett Hosgood (@amandajfollett) October 20, 2022
People who received these phone calls reported being questioned on whether they had read the BC NDP constitution (which was not available online), or donated to other parties in the past. Cull’s definition of party support was arbitrary and subjective, making it impossible to judge her claim that interlopers had “compromised the integrity of the leadership election itself”.
Cull took umbrage at Dogwood saying that British Columbians could join the party for the leadership vote and leave later if they chose. She found no wrongdoing when a union local on Vancouver Island did the same. The truth is, people have a right to switch political parties any time they choose, for any reason they like. That is another feature of a healthy democracy.
Time to clean up this mess
The BC NDP changed its own rules in the middle of a leadership race, and enforced them selectively. They derailed a public debate between the candidates, and denied their own members a vote on who should lead the party and the province. They attacked the morals and reputation of a candidate who inspired a genuine surge of excitement from voters. And their CEO falsely implied that Dogwood broke the law.
Perhaps it’s time for these internal party elections to be run by an independent regulator: Elections BC. Candidates, voters and third-party groups deserve a clear set of rules and a level playing field. To bolster public confidence in leadership races and nomination contests, let’s put them under the jurisdiction of the same civil servants who administer our general elections.
Most recent party leadership races in B.C. have been plagued by controversy, and this one was no exception. The safe option for Dogwood might have been to sit it out altogether, but we believe in seizing opportunities to expand democratic participation. If we don’t wade into fights like these because they might get messy, we leave them to be controlled by a small number of backroom power players, with real consequences for our communities, our climate – and our democracy.
What’s next for climate voters now that the BC NDP has shut down its leadership race? Join our online town hall next week to look at our options. One thing’s for sure: we can’t let oil and gas lobbyists continue to call the shots in Victoria. As our province slides into a deadly climate crisis, only organized people power can counter the growing influence of the fossil fuel industry.
NDP corruption is a deadly blow to that party. They prefer fracking, logging, pipelines and site C to any real Clean Energy work. What a disappointment they truly are.
This whole mess sickens me. If Anjali and her values can be disqualified from the leadership race then our so called democracy may as well openly admit to being a corporatocracy. Capitalism at its finest! Pass me the barf bucket.
Thank you for this. It puts a hell of a strain on the people of BC, who don’t support the Liberals, but are now very reluctant to support the NDP. Is the Green Party an option or do we need another party?
Thanks for this; I was devastated with how the NDP played its games. It’s hard to understand why those leading the party are so threatened by people with the determination to do the best they can for Earth, Life, and all of us.
If there is a valid legal argument that the NDP deprived those of us to exercise our democratic right to vote and therefore should reimburse us for our membership fee, I would happily transfer that fee to Dogwood in recognition of your efforts.
Thank you for this great article. I believe dogwood did no harm and broke no rules. As I see it Ms. Cull broke the rules and the party colluded. And Hill- Knowlton lobby group of which Cull belongs is working for the fossil fuel industry and she should not have been used. Shame on this NDP leadership.
This has been a most upsetting situation, as we watch climate change getting worse continuously. The fact that the opposition is “the Liberals” who cannot be trusted means that we have to put pressure on the NDP to reform, which they don’t want to do. Question: Did the chief electoral officer actually recommend they not not Appaduri in? Ebys letter said that.
Looks like the oil and gas lobbiests are in charge of the NDP party. It’s a real shame that when this party had a chance to revitalize and make itself relevant to young people it chose to ignore the opportunity and instead chose the continuation of habitat destruction and further warming of the world. So disappointing!!!
Anjali’s supporters are numerous enough to have a lot of clout in the NDP. Let’s remove the fossil fuel lobbyists from positions of influence!
Wow thanks for the awesome and comprehensive article! Is there any way the BC NDP party could be taken to court and sued for libel or disseminating false information?
If not for the immaturity of the BC electorate, this would lead to the demise of the NDP government.
Thank you for exposing the cheating and sleaziness in the backrooms of the governing party. It’s even worse than I thought!
Just before Steven Harper became the leader of the Conservatives, I joined the Conservatives to be able to vote for David Orchard who was running for leader then. No one raised an issue about that…
Needless to say, I shall not be voting for the provincial NDP anytime in the near future.
In my mind, few things rival John Horgan’s cynical and dishonourable disavowal of his own signature on the Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA) with the Greens. This does. Sleazy to the max.
Soooo glad the activities are continuing. I was so flattened after sitting on the legislature steps listening to Angeli’s press conference. She did beautifully, and I know it’s not over, so it’s wonderful to have something to go to (wish it was in person too), and be with other sane and motivated people. Big thumbs up to all of you/us!
Thank you Dogwood, for this clarifying explanation. The NDP, provincial and federal, is the only political party I’ve ever belonged to (for 35+years). I was very pleased that Anjali joined the leadership race, and was looking forward to the debates. Even thought she won’t be our leader she has added much to our dreams for the future, and hopefully to the focus of the BCNDP government. I am sorry for David Eby to have such a disastrous beginning of his time as Premier.
And yes, Dogwood, I agree that elections should be run by an independent regulator.
Thank you for your hard work over the years. I first met Dogwood when we were putting loon stickers on our loonies.
Completely agree with your blog, especially given the revolving door of exNDP MLAs into industry lobbyists. When govt’s are lobbied like they are it takes away the feeling that the gov’t is there for you. The NDP are giving more to industry than the former Liberals. Oct. 26 Tyee article, Industry Carbon Capture Steamroller …”scrapping income tax surcharges that had been levied by the Christy Clark government.” This gov’t has completely disillusioned it’s base supporters.
Well, the BC NDP have successfully convinced me to vote Green and to actively support the BC Green Party.
The BC NDP should be ashamed of themselves. I have not voted NDP for the last 2 elections and will not vote for them ever again.
Maybe its time to take a serious look at joining the Greens. They’ve been the true climate champions for years, and don’t play political games under any circumstances. It’s prohibited under party rules, and is totally contrary to Green principles.
Thank you! Well-said.
So very discouraging.
Thank you for your work and commitment, and for this clear explanation!
Look at the way the BCNDP has handled this and you get a feint whiff of how the fossil fuel industry would handle a full blown challenge to their hegemony. Jeremy Corbyn speaks eloquently about this. Anjali Appadurai experienced a ‘Very British Columbia Coup’.
Finally, some facts surrounding this complete disgrace of a so called democratic system and the inexcusable actions taken by the BC New Democrat Party. Thank you for the detailed explanation – it still leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. I’ve never been an NDP member before, previously was a BC Green member (for the record I have an email confirming my membership was cancelled) and will hold onto my NDP membership for the time being – would like to see how all the new members might be able to bring this party back to the grass roots Anjali was planning to take us!
I joined the BC NDP Party because I wanted some debate on the values of the party prior to the appointment of a new premier. We all know that the incumbent in any political race has a huge advantage, if only because they have been in the public and media spotlight. The premier after two years in office is the most likely to win in the next general election. That is if the party that he/she belongs to is not completely discredited.
Agreed. We can thank Cull for unintentionally revealing how captured the top brass of the NDP party is. The big corporations along with very wealthy patrons control with backroom shenanigans. We now know that this government( regardless of Eby) will fight to save the last spotted owl but not its habitat, the last salmon but not its spawning ground, the last indigenous person but not their rights, huge mega projects like site C but not the river and a massive LNG project regardless of climate emergency.
This is an excellent article, clearly explaining Dogwood’s involvement and the grossly unfair conduct of Elizabeth Cull. I think it’s important to continue to get this information out to the general public. I imagine there are Many who believe the unjust accusations against Dogwood and Ms. Appadurai. Is there anyway to expose the behavior of Elizabeth Cull who would have had the full backing of John Horgan and his cabinet and perhaps David Eby as well?
I’m glad Anjali remains a member of the NDP and I hope the 1,000s of new NDP members can influence the party going forward.
Thank you, Dogwood, for all you do.
I was concerned that Anjali would not win the premiership for one or other reason (though had not imagined the NDP would go so far as to block her run), so stuck with the BC Greens. I did not want a party which thinks fracking for LNG and wiping out old-growth forests is acceptable getting the idea I support them let alone obtaining a single cent from me.
We can’t let Eby and his “supporters” run loose for the next 2 years. They can do a lot of damage in that time. How can we contain them NOW ?!
Excellent Reporting. Thanks so much for telling the truth and clearing away all the falsehoods about Dogwood’s actions. Somehow we need the public to understand what happened and to be aware of the duplicity of the NDP leadership race and the NDP’s CEO’s part in it.
I’m curious to know what the CEO bulletins contained and how they were worded. Are they accessible to the general public or even to NDP membership 9of which i became a member.
Thank you for the background details to what happened. Too bad … Might it be that big gas and oil may have had some input into the NDP decision that disqualified Anjali?
I am appalled at this behaviour. And what happened to Cherry Smiley, and why the short time to join.
I feel quite let down
Is there a class action suit to recover donations made to the NDP based on the belief that there would be a fair and democratic leadership race?
This whole situation lacks due process for Anjali Appuradai and Dogwood. You have not had a chance to know the charges and defend yourselves in an unbiased process.
Also, someone should make the same charges against David Eby’s campaign if there are parallels. And if David Eby is the man with character and integrity that he is reported to be, he should stand down until due process has been followed in both campaigns.
The public needs to make a lot of noise.
I hope you have sent this report in to various CBC programs for an interview report? Excellent journalism on this issue. I personally was disgusted by thE NDP and they have lost my vote next election.
The NDP has descended into 1950’s McCarthyism – “Are you now or have you ever been, a member of the Green Party!?”. Demagoguery at its finest……
I am appalled by Elizabeth Cull and the BC NDP’S actions. I am out of there.
The BC NDP should change it’s name. There was no democratic process here. Bullies in the schoolyard become adult bullies in later life. They bully for two reasons: for power and out of fear. I submit that the name change I propose won’t even mess up their logo too much. Only one letter. From the NDP to the NBP. The NEO BULLY PARTY. If the shoe fits….
Much appreciate you keeping me informed. I can then keep the folks I know informed. And so on…
Is there nothing we can do to force the NDP to open up the leadership race again? Can’t the NDP be called on the corruption and sham to our democracy? Will be contacting the NDP candidate in my riding to get their stance on this issue. What if enough current NDP candidates came out in support of re-opening the leadership race based on the undemocratic farce and insult to Appadurai’s reputation? Please let me know how I can proceed to influence this issue towards positive outcomes. Thank-you.
thank you for this accounting of a very un-accountable process!
Actually, the BC NDP is increasingly resembling the BC Liberals, and the overall BC government ie beginning to show suggestions of an affinity with China’s CPC in terms of style.
I do not personqlky approve.
Some of us have voted NDP for more than 50 years and only recently have been leaning towards the Green Party because we feel our NDP have sold out. The appearance of Appandurai in the race was reason enough to come back to the NDP because we felt there was a chance the party might go back to its roots or at the very minimum we might have a discussion about where it was headed. Maybe it is time to go to the Greens?
Thank you for this very clear and elucidating article. Eby should be ashamed of himself, but those organizing for the Appadurai clearly scared the shit out of the controllers. I am sorry to say after being around the NDP since 1972, this is not the first time but the hundredth that controllers of the party have stepped in and stopped grass roots organizing and that energy from rearing its (in their opinion) ugly head. That seems to be the last thing they want, the energy of the unwashed who they cannot control. On the other hand, it is the only way to build a true movement for change, as opposed to mild reform which is a million miles away from what was the vision of Douglas and the founders.
In about 2005, I went to a party convention, and a fellow named Brian from Nanaimo wanted to run for the executive of the party on a socialist platform. He was not even allowed to make a five-minute speech like you would have done in junior high. Instead, they forced him to video record his speech and then they put it on a monitor under the stairs at the Bayshore. It cost a lot of money to go to the convention and it was mostly populated by people who worked for the party and were insiders. When the vote was called the controllers passed around a piece of paper which said on it “unity slate.” Low and behold those people were all elected. What was interesting though, was that without a campaign and spending nearly nothing on some buttons, Brian got 30% of the vote without even being allowed to run a campaign. The moral of the story is that the controllers are weak, but in order to really make change you have to get involved at the riding level and not give up.
Dana Larson too started something called Open NDP, and they did not like that either. The prevented him from going to the conventions.
Keep going or give up? Which will it be? What alternative is there? Get organized over the long term. Flash in the pan will not work and that is for sure. Do not let the bastards grind you down. One thing for sure, capitalism will eat up every resource we have until there nothing left but oxygen to buy by the bottle. Without the energy of the grass roots the Party will never be able to institute any type of socialization as they know that is not popular, nor do the controllers dream about it. So it is up to someone else to cry, the emperor has no cloths, it is time for some drastic measures. And to really challenge the controllers. Or whoopie we are all going to die and conditions are going to get much worse, here there and everywhere.
I joined the provincial NDP in hopes that there would actually be a leadership race with debates. With Appadurai’s disqualification I wrote to them explaining my outrage at what they had done and requested my membership fee be returned as it seemed the party was no longer democratic. I was told my membership was being returned. So, for those of you who feel betrayed and want your contribution back, I would suggest you ask for it to be returned and see the response. Maybe the policy for giving refunds will change retroactively as well if enough angry members request but it’s probably worth a try.
I’ve been an NDP voter for decades, and supported Dogwood for many years as well. Unfortunately, I think your organization showed terrible judgement in this leadership fiasco.
I heard many claims in the media, echoed in this blog, of how Dogwood was only encouraging people to sign up as NDP members, not telling them to vote for a particular candidate. Having read all the many emails you folks sent out during the campaign, that strikes me as shameless codswallop. You may never have written “Vote for Anjali!” as a plain sentence, but the message in every email was crystal clear. Your tone of moral indignation rings false.
Let’s be honest. NDP membership was low and vulnerable to a large influx of new members who didn’t necessarily support the party. You saw a short-cut to power, an opportunity to take over the leadership of the province. And I understand the appeal of that — we’re in a climate emergency and the need for change is urgent. But standing back for a moment, you should have recognized that there’s no principled defence of that path to power. Even if Anjali won the leadership race, what claim to legitimacy could she have had as Premier, never having been elected to any democratic office by the general population?
When Gordon Campbell took over the BC Liberal party from Gordon Wilson by packing the membership with warmed-over Socreds it was a despicable act of political cynicism. Had Anjali succeeded, it would have been equally odious. Gaming the system is not a solution to be applauded.
It was likewise poor judgement to imagine the NDP would allow itself to be taken over by a group with no allegiance to its principles. Of course they fought that, as any political party would, and you would have to be incredibly naive to think a different outcome likely. It’s also clear to me that if you hadn’t tried to seize control of the NDP with questionable tactics then there would have been no disqualification. Absent that self-inflicted wound we would have had the leadership race Dogwood wanted, with Anjali as a candidate and no dodging the discussion of climate issues.
Poor judgement as well, I think, to imagine that Anjali would have have made an effective Premier, with no democratic mandate, no support from other NDP MLAs, no hands-on with the actual nuts and bolts of government — basically, with zero experience for the job. Whereas David Eby, in my estimation, is the best hope we’ve had in decades for a leader who is both capable and interested in effecting positive change that goes beyond the incremental. It baffles me that Dogwood has positioned him as the enemy.
So now we are left with what should have been the anticipated results. A weakened NDP (to judge from literally every other comment on this blog.) A wounded David Eby at the start of his leadership — someone who should have been a powerful ally but now is more likely to be antagonistic. Much ammunition provided to Kevin Falcon and his far-right brethren. A revitalized division in the NDP between environmentalists and labour, again to the benefit of Falcon (and perhaps the Greens — much of a muchness.) A poisoned relationship between Dogwood and the provincial government you hope to influence. A likely dead-end for Anjali within the provincial NDP, having led a failed coup.
I think these outcomes ought to prompt a touch of self-reflection on Dogwood’s part, but all I see here is defensive posturing and hollow outrage.