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Rob Shaw: NDP membership mischief is messy, but impact is unclear

It's a "hostile takeover" of the BC NDP by the BC Greens to some; a "silly" overreaction to others.
Anjali Appadurai

The BC NDP and Green parties continue to point fingers at each other over how many Greens are taking out NDP memberships in order to influence the leadership race in favour of climate activist Anjali Appadurai.

Depending on which side you ask, this phenomenon of people holding dual memberships (against the rules in both parties) is either a “hostile takeover” attempt, or a “silly” overreaction.

But undeniably, in at least some circles, it does appear to be happening.

It’s the scope that remains unknown. Are we talking about a handful of outspoken Greens, who brazenly post about holding two memberships on social media? Hundreds? Thousands?

Nobody knows for sure – which is why the NDP made the unusual request to access the Green membership list last weekend. In the absence of the two parties sitting down to compare lists, all we have are guesses and anecdotes.

The NDP say they’ve found several cases already through their internal audit process. The party released anonymized screenshots of social media posts over the weekend.

In one, a person writes: “Oh what the hell, I did it. I (temporarily) withdrew from the BC Greens and rejoined the BC NDP for $10, in order to support Anjali’s leadership campaign.”

In another, a person who identifies as a long-time Green suggests “please consider joining the BC NDP party, at least for now. It only costs $10, and does not tie you to voting for the NDP in an election.”

A screenshot of an email from a “support care specialist” for the Green party encouraged a member intent on resigning to continue donating.

“If you are cancelling to vote in the BC NDP leadership contest, you can still donate to the BC Greens as long as you are not a member,” wrote the Green party staffer.

There are also numerous connections between the Appadurai campaign and the BC Greens, which have raised concerns amongst New Democrats.

Appadurai’s official agent, Michelle Sheardown, used to be a BC Green Party member, though she’s told Global BC she resigned to join the BC NDP for the leadership race.

Her former campaign manager, Harrison Johnston, was a BC Green candidate in the 2020 provincial election.

The Dogwood Initiative, which is already under investigation by Elections BC over whether its use of resources to run a membership drive for Appadurai is an improper in-kind donation, wrote an article in August that encouraged Green members to take out NDP memberships by suggesting no one would find out if there’s an “overlap” and that there are no legal penalties for doing so.

“For those who support political parties other than the BC NDP but still want to have a say in this race, you could choose to pause your membership and return after you cast your vote,” wrote Dogwood campaigns manager Alexandra Woodsworth.

“It’s also worth noting that parties don’t share membership lists with one another and there is no penalty for an overlap in your membership as you switch back and forth between parties.”
Appadurai retweeted and shared the article.

Despite all of that, it’s still unclear whether this is having an actual, meaningful impact on the NDP leadership race.

The Greens say only 88 members quit (presumably to join the NDP) between Horgan announcing his resignation June 28 and the Sept. 4 NDP membership cutoff date.

“Because Anjali is a strong environmentalist running on a climate platform, it's natural that a number of our supporters would be interested in that kind of leadership,” said Jo-Anne Roberts, Green party interim executive director.

“So rather than going, ‘Wow, we may have something here,’ the NDP is going, ‘The Greens are attempting to undermine our leadership race.’

“That's silly, I think, and not true. We have about 4,000 members, they have 11,000 members. This really would be the David and Goliath takeover.”

The Greens appear happy to let the dual membership issue resolve itself – or, more accurately, fester in the background while New Democrats squirm.

“We're comfortable that our members are aware of what the rules are,” said Roberts.

“This is something where it's an honour system, in many ways, because we didn't ask the NDP to send us their list of membership so we could check to see if any of our people were holding dual memberships.”

The Greens stand to benefit the most from this mess.

If Appadurai wins, they have an ally to execute their climate plans in the premier’s office.

If Appadurai loses, they will court her many supporters to join the BC Greens (or rejoin as the case may be). The Greens will also no doubt make a concerted play to recruit Appadurai herself as a candidate for the next election.

But just because the Greens can capitalize on the NDP’s (largely self-inflicted) misfortunes, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are deliberately organizing to meddle in the race or take over that party.

Instead, the whole affair highlights the messy world of B.C.’s political parties. They set their own membership criteria, police their own party lists, organize their own leadership races, and rely on voluntary compliance by largely turning a blind eye most of the time as long as donations flow in – until, one day, like right now, all hell breaks loose.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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