Public Eye – January 27

The provincial New Democrats have claimed they’ll be more open and accountable than the Liberals if they win government. But the party’s top staffer cast doubt on those claims during last week’s New Democrat membership form controversy.

  • Jan. 25, 2011 2:00 p.m.

Top staffer ignites membership controversy

NDP openness in doubt

The provincial New Democrats have claimed they’ll be more open and accountable than the Liberals if they win government. But the party’s top staffer cast doubt on those claims during last week’s New Democrat membership form controversy.

The controversy was triggered when MLA Mable Elmore, as well as individuals who were alleged to be supporters of leadership candidate Adrian Dix, dropped off forms at the party’s headquarters which didn’t have a membership payment attached, as required.

Complaints were filed by competing leadership campaigns. But, during an interview last Tuesday evening, the party’s provincial secretary Jan O’Brien repeatedly refused to disclose whether such a requirement actually existed.

The interview began with what should have been a simple question: “What are the requirements in terms of having money affixed to forms?”

O’Brien’s response, however, wasn’t so simple.

“Each individual has to pay for their own membership forms and that’s what we’re concerned about,” she said.

So we tried again: “And the money has to be affixed to the form?”

“There’s different ways that it comes in to us. It comes in through batches and through credit cards and online. So it depends on how we receive the forms.”

Uh-huh. “But if it’s a cheque or cash, the money has to be affixed to the form?”

“We do batch our forms so that they come in groups as well,” she said.

So, after two additional tries at being polite, we bluntly told O’Brien it would “make it a hell of a lot easier” if she would just say “yes or no” to whether such a requirement exists.

The inscrutable reply: “Sometimes questions can’t be answered with a yes or no.”

Clearly. But sometimes questions can be answered with yes or no if you obtain a confidential email from O’Brien that was sent on Jan. 13 in which she advised the leadership campaigns that, “Each individual applicant’s fee must be attached to their membership form.”

Nevertheless, last Wednesday, O’Brien decided that requirement “created an unnecessary step and extra work for some campaigns” and was “contrary to the BC NDP’s standard way of handling the receipt of more than 10 membership forms at a time.”

Indeed, in later interviews with the media, she described it as more of a “guideline” — one that wasn’t sent to constituency associations.

So the provincial secretary, in effect, decided to waive it — which, perhaps, explains why she refused to confirm its existence in the first place.

Bankrolling the home team

When it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, leadership contestants Mike Farnworth and Moira Stilwell come in first place.

According to a review of Elections British Columbia filings, between 2005 and 2009 the two of them donated more money to their respective political parties than any of their competitors.

Farnworth contributed $14,625 to the New Democrats while Stilwell — who was the head of nuclear medicine at three Lower Mainland hospitals before running for elected office two years ago — contributed $8,235 to the Liberals.

By comparison, front-running Liberal leadership candidates Mike de Jong, George Abbott and Kevin Falcon donated just $7,249 in total — with Falcon being the most miserly, contributing $855.

But the Surrey-Cloverdale MLA still contributed more than his competitors Christy Clark, who is on leave from her job as a CKNW broadcaster, and Ed Mayne, a Tim Hortons’ franchise owner.

Neither of them donated a penny to the Liberals during those fours years.

Meanwhile, New Democrat leadership candidate Adrian Dix came in a close second to Farnworth, contributing $12,931.79. M

Sean Holman is the editor of the online provincial political news journal Public Eye (publiceyeonline.com) and host of Public Eye Radio, which can be heard 8-10 a.m. Sunday mornings on CFAX 1070.

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