By Alex Cosh
More new B.C. NDP members — including a former paid NDP campaigner — are expressing concerns about the party’s “McCarthy-esque” vetting tactics in the leadership race.
The ongoing screening of new members coincided with the B.C. NDP’s written request Friday that the B.C. Green Party agree to a third-party review of each organization’s membership list. In a letter, the B.C. NDP’s provincial director Heather Stoutenburg wrote: “Our usual audit of our membership list before a leadership vote has revealed a significant number of current and former BC Greens applying for membership in the BC NDP.”
She added that the party believes some Green Party members temporarily paused their memberships solely in order to vote in the B.C. NDP leadership race, calling such a practice “fraudulent.” Both parties prohibit simultaneous membership in multiple parties.
In a follow up letter, the NDP expressed disappointment at the Greens’ response, and made what some observers regard as a thinly veiled threat to the rival party: “If a significant portion of the BC Green membership is attempting a hostile takeover of the BC NDP, this does not reflect well on the BC Green Party and we would wonder whether it puts its status as a registered political party in jeopardy.”
Critics on Twitter described the NDP’s letter as “unhinged” and “bizarre.” The B.C. Greens, meanwhile, have dismissed suggestions it is coordinating a “hostile takeover” of the B.C. NDP in order to elect former federal NDP candidate and leadership hopeful Anjali Appadurai as “ridiculous.”
"The number of people who have contacted us to cancel their memberships in order to support the Appadurai campaign is actually quite low,” a Green Party spokesperson told The Maple last week before the letters were exchanged between the two parties.
Stoutenburg did not respond to a request for comment from The Maple about the party’s letters to the Greens.
Last week, The Maple reported that a B.C. NDP membership applicant, Rik Logtenberg, who signed up to support Appadurai, was told by the party he needed to provide documents proving that he is no longer a member of B.C. Green Party. Logtenberg left the party in July 2021.
Logtenberg said he was concerned that such demands were part of an attempt to suppress his and other members' votes in the leadership race. The NDP, meanwhile, insisted that such requests are standard due diligence aimed at ensuring the integrity of the vote, as emphasized in the Friday letter.
But more new NDP members are now coming forward to express concerns about the party’s tactics.
Kelsey Hannan, who told The Maple he previously worked as a paid NDP campaigner, recently joined the B.C. NDP to vote in the leadership race. He has not yet decided which leadership candidate — Anjali Appadurai or David Eby — he will vote for, but signed up for the party to have a say in the future of the province.
He received a call from the party on Oct. 6, which he recorded and shared on Twitter. In the call, a party staffer asked why he joined the B.C. NDP, and how he heard about the leadership race. Hannan explained he heard about it through media reports.
The staffer then asked Hannan how long he had been an NDP supporter, to which Hannan replied “a few years,” after Premier John Horgan was elected.
“We basically just want to confirm that you are not a supporter of another political party, whether it’s federally or provincially,” the staffer explained to Hannan, who replied that he is not.
Following Hannan’s response, the staffer stated that someone with his name appears in Elections Canada records as having donated to the federal Green Party. Hannan confirmed that he previously donated to that party to support its election campaign efforts in Prince Edward Island, but said he is not a member.
The staffer then asked Hannan when he last donated to the Greens. Hannan said he donated in 2021. Elections Canada records reviewed by The Maple confirm that Hannan’s last donation to the federal Green Party was made in December last year. Hannan’s name does not appear in provincial political contribution records.
Finally, the staffer asked Hannan if he “accepts” the provincial and federal NDP’s constitution, policies and principles. Hannan said he does.
“I was shocked,” Hannan told The Maple. “I had never seen this before, in a political party of any spectrum. It felt like a loyalty or purity test. It’s McCarthy-esque.”
Hannan was even more shocked by the questions, since he previously did campaign work for the NDP’s Wayne Stetski, the former MP for Kootenay-Columbia and a provincial candidate for Kootenay East in 2020. In the last provincial election, Hannan created several campaign video ads for Stetski.
In 2019, Hannan wrote social media posts calling on Kootenay-Columbia residents to re-elect Stetski to the House of Commons.
Hannan also ran the “Rural-Urban Proportional for B.C.” campaign during the province’s 2018 referendum on electoral reform, which the NDP supported. He said he doesn’t think the B.C. NDP was aware of any of this when they called him.
Hannan said he donated to the Greens in P.E.I to support a personal friend who was running to become an MP. He noted there are no NDP incumbents at the federal or provincial level in that province. The P.E.I Greens are the largest left-of-centre party and form the official Opposition in the province’s legislative assembly.
“The funniest part is I don't even know who I support yet, Anjali or Eby,” Hannan added. “I want to hear what they have to say. I just want a leadership election.”
“I don't think democracy has an asterisk,” he continued. “I don't think it's a ‘takeover.’ I think any time any party has a leadership election, it should expect many people to register because they want a say on who the new premier will be.”
Other B.C. NDP members who contacted The Maple said calls from the NDP came from out-of-province numbers. The Maple contacted the NDP to ask if any of the membership-vetting calls are being outsourced to third-party vendors, but did not receive a response.
Adele Marsland, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) who joined the B.C. NDP in early September to support Appadurai, told The Maple she was called late in the evening on Oct. 6 from an Ontario number. She was questioned in the same way Hannan was.
“It felt like a cross examination,” said Marsland. “These questions were getting more and more pointed.” Marsland was taken aback when she was asked if she paid for her party membership herself. She said: “Of course I did.”
Notably, the caller “seemed very interested” after Marsland disclosed that she had joined to support Appadurai.
Marsland had not previously been a member of any political party in B.C. — she first moved to the province in August 2021. She was a member of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party for one year at the age of 18 to support a specific candidate, but had not been a member of any other party since.
Marsland has been a supporter of Appadurai since her federal election campaign last fall in the riding of Vancouver Granville, where Appadurai narrowly lost to the Liberal Party candidate.
“I was just really inspired by her politics and her campaign last fall,” explained Marsland. “Horgan’s policies are very passive NDP, which, as a young voter, and a very left-wing voter, I understand why that's very frustrating for people, considering that the NDP is usually there shaking things up a little bit.”
She said the call from the NDP has left her questioning whether she wants to be involved in party politics in the future.
“It would definitely feel a lot more scary, I think, to just kind of have this experience and maybe feel a little bit more unsure about it,” Marsland explained. She also thinks the NDP’s recent communications with the Greens are ill advised.
“I don't think they're doing themselves any favours by reaching out to the Greens like they did on Friday,” she said. “I don't understand what the B.C. NDP is currently doing; I don't understand why they're painting themselves this way.”
The NDP’s membership vetting process comes amid unproven allegations of campaign rule violations by the climate justice group Dogwood B.C., which encouraged its members to join the B.C. NDP and vote in the leadership contest based on each candidate’s stance on the climate emergency.
Despite not endorsing any candidate — and stating that it received approval for its strategy from Elections BC before the leadership race began — the group is being investigated over accusations of making a “political contribution” in violation of election laws. Dogwood insists no rules were broken, and says the complaints against it highlight the B.C. NDP’s reluctance to discuss its support for fossil fuel projects.
Another new B.C. NDP member, Jo, who asked that their real name not be published because of concerns that disclosing their political affiliation could result in negative employment repercussions, told The Maple that they have previously been involved in the Green Party, but was never a member.
“I joined the NDP because I wasn't happy about Eby being coronated,” Jo explained. “I think he's just going to carry on with the policies that Horgan has and I'm not happy with those.”
The party recently called Jo, asking if they would answer questions about why they joined, which they declined. The party explained that election financing records show Jo had previously donated to the B.C. Green Party. The Maple verified that Jo’s last publicly listed donation to the Greens was made in 2021.
“It was kind of aggressive,” said Jo, “and then to kind of withhold that information before asking the question was … interesting.”
Jo said they are being made to feel unwelcome in the B.C. NDP. “It was quite confrontational,” they said.
Marsland, the UBC graduate student, described the whole situation as inconsistent with what she sees as the NDP’s core values.
“The NDP was always supposed to be a party for the people whose voices don't feel heard,” she explained. “Now, in 2022, to see these really unsettling kind of scare tactics and other things that are coming out of it, it's very strange.”
Alex Cosh is the managing editor of The Maple.
Edited by John Young.
Here are a few stories from our archive that expand on today's story
A B.C. NDP membership applicant who signed up to support leadership hopeful Anjali Appadurai is concerned that the party’s insistence he provide documents showing he is no longer a member of a different party is part of an attempt to suppress his and other members' votes.
“Sometimes you need to jam the gears a little bit so that people are reminded that there is another way."