Urban members dominate NDP vote

NDP leadership candidates Adrian Dix

NDP leadership candidates Adrian Dix

VICTORIA – The B.C. NDP is completing its first one member-one vote leadership contest on Sunday, with as many as three quarters of its members coming from the populous southwest corner of the province.

That’s the system the B.C. Liberal Party changed for its vote in February, in an effort to balance influence beyond Metro Vancouver and southern Vancouver Island. And Education Minister George Abbott, who pushed for that change as a leadership candidate, says the NDP’s decision will come back to haunt it.

“I think they’ve sold people from rural and northern British Columbia short by not moving to a weighted vote system,” Abbott said in an interview Tuesday. “If a half a dozen ridings end up determining who wins the leadership of the party, it may give them some pause, I think, to consider whether to look at this in the future.”

NDP leadership front-runner Mike Farnworth estimates that of the party’s 28,000 members, there are about 5,000 in Vancouver, 7,000 in Surrey, another 2,000 in the suburbs north of the Fraser River and 7,000 on Vancouver Island.

That’s a distribution of NDP members that roughly reflects the population of B.C., and the party will probably review the one member-one vote system at its next convention, he said.

“And I’m sure constituencies from rural B.C. will weigh in with their perspective,” Farnworth said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we get resolutions saying, let’s go to a weighted system. I wouldn’t be surprised if you get resolutions saying go to a regional system.”

Two rural contenders for the NDP leadership, Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali and Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons, both dropped out when they decided they couldn’t compete with the membership clout of rural candidates.

Vancouver-Kingsway MLA Adrian Dix caused a stir when he brought in thousands of new memberships at the deadline for voting in the leadership contest.

The NDP hosted a series of debates in every region of the province except the northeast, where the party has never had substantial voter support. And Farnworth said rural policies such as his proposal for an expanded northern development trust are what count.

“At the end of the day it’s the person you choose,” Farnworth said. “You can have an idiot elected from Fort St. John and just because they’re from rural B.C. doesn’t mean they’re going to be a particularly good premier. Likewise, you could have somebody from Vancouver who might not be that good a leader in terms of even dealing with urban issues.”

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