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January 19, 2011

Membership Dispute

Hopefully, once membership applications received by the January 17th deadline are processed, the NDP will put out a news release that says how many members the party has who are eligible to vote on April 17th and how that compares to the number when Carole James announced her intention to resign. Curious observers would like to know the average donation per new member and how many of those who joined are former members coming back to the party. Of course, similar information from the Liberals who seem to do everything in secret while professing a commitment to open and transparent government would also be interesting.

Both political parties must be concerned about the kind of controversy that erupted with wild allegations from Harry Lali. For the BC Liberals, any irregularities due to mass signups would be slightly moderated if their weighted voting system is adopted on February 12th, but no party wants to see the possibility of voting irregularities due to illegitimate memberships. It is unfortunate that the parties couldn't co-operate to see the extent to which some people may have taken out memberships in both parties.

The NDP experienced allegations of membership signup irregularities during its 2000 leadership campaign, and it wasn't just the Dosanjh camp that was accused. The lessons learned in 2000 produced the 90 day membership requirement as well as an attestation procedure whereby membership canvassers must affirm that validity of the information on each membership application. The NDP's provincial office randomly checks a sample of applications when nomination contests or leadership races are underway. The safeguards built into that process are a reason why it was inappropriate for Harry Lali to threaten to sue the party if memberships submitted by his rivals were accepted. That threat may have jeopardized Lali's eligibility to seek the leadership since section 16.08 of the party's constitution provides:

"It is a breach of the principles and policies of the New Democratic Party for any member to seek redress for any complaint against another member or body of the Party through public notice or solicitation, or legal redress without first exhausting the procedures outlined in this Article, and following the directions of the Provincial Council in their final decision."

Whether that section is applied to Lali will depend on whether a formal complaint is made about his conduct. While I find his behavior objectionable, as a pundit I believe it would be inappropriate for me to file a formal complaint.

Jan O'Brian, the NDP's Provincial Secretary and Leadership Electoral Officer for the 2011 Leadership Election, demonstrated her extensive background in labour relations with a carefully worded ruling on the challenges made by the Lali and Farnworth campaigns to some membership applications. The ruling basically expressed confidence in the control procedures that are in place and said that all of the applications received by the January 17th deadline would be processed. That leaves open the possibility that some could be rejected if they don't withstand scrutiny; however, there will be no bulk rejection of applications. In the words of O'Brian: ""The BC NDP has always worked to involve interested British Columbian in our party. We will not disenfranchise people who are interested in being a part of our party."