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Environmental organization probed for activities related to BC NDP leadership race

Dogwood BC, an environmental organization aimed at getting people involved in politics, is having its activites related to the NDP leadership race probed both by Elections BC and the party.

Elections BC told CTV News in a statement it is "reviewing" the group's activities. Specifically, it wants to ensure that as a third party, Dogwood didn't make a direct or in-kind political contribution to a leadership contestant.

Kai Nagata, Dogwood's energy and democracy director, told CTV News the organization's goal is to get supporters involved in politics. While the group's website doesn't tell people who to vote for, it does slam Premier John Horgan and the NDP for several environmental decisions, and notes that leadership candidate David Eby would continue Horgan's policies.

It also highlights the environmental achievements of Eby's opponent, Anjali Appadurai, who promises to end the NDP's support for the Site C hydroelectric dam and the liquefied natural gas industry.


Heather Stoutenburg, the BC NDP's provincial director, told CTV News in a statement that the party's election CEO "has been brought allegations related to a breach of the Election Act by a declared candidate in the race, as well as numerous complaints regarding the solicitation of fraudulent sign-ups of members from other parties."

The party says one complaint involves Dogwood, which tells supporters on its website that they could pause their party membership and join the NDP, then re-join their original party after the leadership race.

The NDP membership form says by submitting the application, people acknowledge they aren't members of another political party. Dogwood's advice on that? It isn't a legal requirement.

Nagata said he recently joined the NDP, and that encouraging people to get involved in the leadership race is meant to do just that: get people involved. When asked if telling people to "do what they're comfortable with" was acknowledgement there could be some sort of grey area involved, Kai spoke about how only NDP members could elect the next premier.

"The BC NDP had a membership of a few thousand people under the leader John Horgan, and the idea of just a few thousand people choosing the next premier, I think, should concern people across B.C.," Nagata said.

Those numbers match rumours, but can't be confirmed because the party wouldn't provide membership numbers.


Political scientist Hamish Telford, who teaches at the University of the Fraser Valley, pointed out that every political leadership campaign is about signing up more members than your opponents to vote you into the top job.

"These are kind of like loyalty cards. You can get loyalty cards for Costco and Superstore, (and) neither of them is the wiser," Telford added.

The issue of so-called "dual memberships" isn't easily investigated. That's because parties run their own leadership campaigns based on their own rules. The BC NDP said spot checks would be conducted on memberships, but didn't elaborate.

Raj Sihota, vice president of 360 Strategies Canada, previously served as the BC NDP's provincial director. She told CTV News she expects there will be unease about the new membership list among long-time party members. People had until Sept. 4 to join the party.

"It will be impossible for the NDP, in this case, to compare their membership list to the membership lists of the Green Party. Politicial parties don't share their lists," she explained.

Telford said that's one reason some suggest leadership races be administered by an outside agency like Elections BC.


Another issue being investigated by NDP elections CEO Elizabeth Cullen involves emails sent in support of Appadurai that said Green Party members could quit that party, join the NDP and – if she doesn't win – go back to the Greens.

"It certainly seems unethical: the way, you know, these emails have been written," said Sihota.

Telford pointed out that people often change parties, but agreed the sentiment of the email was not in line with the spirit of the party system.

"Any candidate running in a leadership race is going to draw on his or her network of people in order to get supported."

For her part, Appadurai said her campaign hasn't tried to recruit Green Party members, because it would be bad for the NDP long-term, and she said the enthusiasm for her campaign means she didn't need to.

"No rules have been broken by by our campaign," Appadurai said. "There's been no collusion. There's been absolutely no direction to anyone connected to the campaign to use underhanded means to get memberships, because we don't need it."

She also denied any wrongdoing in another investigation: the NDP looking into comments made by an Appadurai supporter about providing the $10 membership fee. Appadurai said the supporter, who was not a volunteer or staff, misspoke and the campaign made sure no memberships were paid for.


The BC NDP said sanctions were possible. Under the NDP leadership rules, that could include disqualifying a candidate.

"Any registered political party involved in soliciting fraudulent memberships or otherwise interfering in our leadership race will be reported to Elections BC," Stoutenberg's statement reads.

Dogwood isn't a registered political party, and the Greens say they have nothing to do with the race.

Stefan Jonsson, the director of communications for the BC Green Party, said it "is not involved in any campaign or organization connected to the BC NDP leadership contest, nor have we encouraged members or supporters to get involved. Our bylaws clearly prohibit dual memberships, and we do not condone this practice in any way." Top Stories

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