Veteran MLA Harry Lali declared himself the tribune of "older white males" as he entered the race to lead B.C.'s New Democrats with a promise to hold the line against gender-equity policies that he said cost the party seats in the last election.
Launching his campaign in Merritt on Thursday, the Indian-born Mr. Lali dubbed equity quotas "an affront to democracy," and said he would "welcome back older, white males into our NDP family" if he becomes party leader when New Democrats vote on April 17.
"I say to older, white males: Don't stand outside the tent and complain. Come and join my campaign team and take back this great party and movement that you helped to build in the first place," said Mr. Lali, who represents Fraser-Nicola.
The 51-year-old, who was transportation minister when Glen Clark was premier, was first elected to the legislature in 1991 and served until 2001. He returned to politics in 2005.
He is the third candidate to join the race after fellow MLA Nicholas Simons and marijuana activist Dana Larsen, but may face challenges bridging party divides because he was among the so-called baker's dozen of MLAs who helped oust leader Carole James.
Mr. Simons was also among the caucus critics of Ms. James.
Mr. Lali said he was content to have his equity policies as the centerpiece of the launch of his campaign, noting that New Democrats are looking for prospective leaders to take emphatic stands on issues.
"British Columbians desperately want to get rid of the B.C. Liberals, but they do not trust the NDP enough to vote for us because they do not know what we stand for any more."
In an interview, Mr. Lali said he supports affirmative action and inclusiveness for equity groups, but opposes quotas.
"When you look at it, you don't want to exclude any particular group from running for nomination, and when we factor in all of the equity groups, the only group that gets left out is older white males," Mr. Lali said.
"With the political correctness that is there, and pervasive not just in the NDP but all political parties, nobody is actually standing up to speak up for folks who feel they are being disenfranchised, and that's the older white males."
Mr. Lali said his view was not focused on recently highlighted rules in the party constitution to ensure gender balance among the party's executive, but rather the "equity mandate" in place for the 2009 election.
That mandate included provisions to enforce the nomination of female candidates in 30 per cent of constituencies not held by the party. Mr. Lali said, in his view, disruptions related to this policy cost the party seven to eight seats.
The policy is under review by the party with a report expected at some point this spring.
Mr. Lali promised to outline a new approach to gender equity during the campaign, but said he favored incentives over orders.
"The carrot works a heck of a lot better than the stick. Everything in my life has taught me that," he said, tentatively proposing incentives for constituencies to nominate female, visible-minority or other equity-targeted candidates or education campaigns.
Sue Hammell, a former NDP minister for women's equality, who was at odds with the baker's dozen and supportive of Ms. James, rejected Mr. Lali's views on equity, noting that the last round of policies helped increase the number of women elected from 21 per cent of caucus to 34 per cent.
She said good intentions need to be backed up by policy commitments.
"Good government requires many voices at the table," she said, noting "good intentions" have not worked to bring more women into legislatures.
"Whenever either gender is short, you don't have either good government in a government itself or a company."
But both Mr. Lali and Ms. Hammell agreed the caucus will be able to get over the hard feelings resulting from the ouster of Ms. James, party leader since 2003, who took the NDP through two elections without winning office.
Ms. Hammell said she expects the party will unite around a new leader, whomever that is. "I know that's what I am going to do," she said.
Mr. Lali said he has spoken to all of the leadership candidates, either in the race already or expected to enter the race, such as fellow MLAs Mike Farnworth and Adrian Dix - supporters of Ms. James.
"We're all of the same mind that we all have to unite and rebuild this party and renew this party, and whoever happens to be the leader, we're all going to unite behind that leader, we're all committed toward that. That whole process of reconciliation and unification has already begun and we're well on our way."