Indo-Canadian leaders say Elections B.C. oversight would end questionable tactics in party races

Of note. Look forward to comments from British Columbia readers:

Leaders in the province’s Indo-Canadian community say the recent controversy surrounding B.C. Liberal party memberships would not be happening if a third-party organization such as Elections B.C. was given an oversight role in political party leadership elections.

Several long-time Liberals and New Democrats of Punjabi heritage are concerned that the blame for questionable memberships is being unfairly placed on racialized communities, instead of on the parties’ membership and voting rules.

“Punjabi-Canadians are a demographic that loves their politics, and you have the traditional loyalty to family and friends, so that is why this community is able to sign up large number of members in a very short period of time. It does not mean their memberships are illegal,” said long-time B.C. Liberal Barj Dhahan.

“Whenever this question comes up, it is Punjabi-Canadians who get stereotyped that they are not following the rules. The real question is: Are the rules being followed by the candidates and their campaign teams and volunteers?”

The controversy came to a head last month, after six of the seven B.C. Liberal leadership campaign teams demanded the party audit close to half of its new memberships over concerns that rules were not being followed. They pointed to addresses that were not residences, including one on a forest service road. One campaign said its canvassers found one residence where only one of the five people signed up using that addressed lived there. The campaigns questioned whether the party was capable of catching potential cheaters.

Since then, the party has been accused of singling out members from the South Asian and Chinese communities for review and audit.

Former NDP MLA Harry Lali said there is a long history of groups, including lawyers and teachers, that launched large membership campaigns for their favoured candidates, but those campaigns were never questioned. He believes all leadership elections over the past two decades in every party have been tainted by dubious membership recruitment tactics.

Lali said when that happens, the party suffers.

“What ends up happening is the old-guard membership is pitted against the new membership, so it often becomes white people being pitted against non-white people,” he said. “It’s time that political parties were dragged into the 21st century.”

That is why Lali recommended that Elections B.C. take over the process of vetting memberships and overseeing leadership votes more than a decade ago, when he was running for the NDP leadership.

Vikram Bajwa also supports calls for involvement by Elections B.C. Bajwa has been a member of the B.C. Liberal party for more than 20 years, and was one of the whistle-blowers in the so-called “quick wins” scandal in 2013, when the party under former premier Christy Clark planned to use government funds to target ethnic support.

Bajwa now claims more than 6,000 international students from India and China have been signed up as Liberal party members in the current leadership race. Bajwa said he and several other party members have sought legal advice and have written a letter demanding the party take action.

“The Liberal party membership form does not ask you to state your citizenship or permanent resident status,” explained Bajwa. “It was overlooked during Christy Clark’s time, and this time we want to put a stop to this.”

Bajwa said if the issue is not properly addressed at the final Liberal leadership debate on Tuesday night, as promised by the party, he and several concerned members will be filing a judicial review of the memberships in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the party has not responded to a request for comment about foreign student memberships.

The leadership election organizing committee issued a public statement last week, saying that more than 3,000, or six per cent, of the party’s 43,000 current active members have been flagged for an audit. It said some audits were triggered when a non-Canadian IP address was used to buy a membership.

It added that, so far, no membership has been rejected.

Critics say they are not working for any of the B.C. Liberal campaigns and their only agenda is to rid the system of the abuses within it. They say it will take political will not seen so far to introduce legislation allowing Elections B.C. to oversee all party leadership elections.

“Not doing something about it, for all political parties, it ends up creating a schism and that erodes to less and less participation in the political process,” said Lali. “And on a wider scale, when you’re talking about someone who wants to be the premier of the province, you want to make sure that individual has won fairly and that the general public can have that confidence.”

Source: Indo-Canadian leaders say Elections B.C. oversight would end questionable tactics in party races

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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