An Indigenous woman says the B.C. government’s decision to call a snap election a year ahead of schedule deprived her of a chance to seek a nomination in her riding – it was instead given to a high-profile white man, contrary to the NDP’s own policy.
Annita McPhee, a three-term president of the Tahltan Central Government, says the party’s appointment of former federal MP Nathan Cullen as a candidate directly contradicts the party’s equity policy. The policy says the party must reserve the candidacy in any riding previously held by a male NDP MLA who isn’t running again for either a woman or a member of another “equity-seeking group.”
The Stikine riding had been held by Doug Donaldson, who was first elected in 2009 and most recently served as forests minister.
Mr. Cullen served as an NDP MP in the area for 15 years and once ran for the federal leadership of the party. He did not seek re-election in last year’s federal vote.
The BC NDP said in a statement Monday there were problems with Ms. McPhee’s application package and that time ran out to rectify the situation.
Party president Craig Keating said the nomination application contained invalid signatures. When the election writ was issued Monday, only Mr. Cullen was an approved candidate in the riding and as a result, “that candidate is now deemed acclaimed and nominated.”
Ms. McPhee said she was deeply disappointed and said she found out she’d been disqualified through the media.
“I hoped my candidacy would uplift all people, but after what I’ve experienced, [I] can only offer deep hurt and disappointment in a party I’ve believed in and supported my entire life,” Ms. McPhee said in a statement Monday.
She said she attempted to clarify the issue with the two signatures the party had declared invalid on Sunday night after receiving a late e-mail, but she said she received no response to her efforts to address the situation.
Ms. McPhee also said party claims that she was understood not to be interested in running for the NDP were “hearsay,” saying no one from the party asked her.
“I feel incredibly abused in this process,” she said.
Megan Olson, president of the Stikine BC NDP riding association, said in a statement that the party undertook an “intense search” for candidates from equity-seeking groups given their expectation the incumbent would not seek re-election. The riding association approached 15 potential candidates including members of the Gitxsan, Wet’suwet’en and Tahltan Nations. All declined.
“In the aftermath of the 2019 federal NDP nomination in Skeena, Annita McPhee made it clear to many members that she never again wanted to be associated with the NDP. As such she was not approached for our search,” the statement said.
According to her spokesperson, Ginger Gosnell-Myers, Ms. McPhee sought the nomination for the federal Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding to replace Mr. Cullen and came in second.
In a statement, Ms. McPhee noted the Stikine has the second-highest percentage of Indigenous peoples among B.C. ridings.
On Monday, Mr. Horgan touted his party’s record on diversity, noting half the members in his caucus are men and half women, “all coming from diverse backgrounds.” He said the equity mandate has served the party well.
He noted that of the five seats in the Prince George-Prince Rupert area, four will be contested for the NDP by women, two of them Indigenous.
Mr. Horgan said, “Nathan stepped forward” because there were no other prospective candidates in the riding the NDP won in 2017 with 52 per cent of the vote, compared with 39 per cent for the BC Liberals.
Stikine has not been the only controversial riding for the party. Although the party has a candidate in Fraser-Nicola – former Lower Nicola Band chief Aaron Sumexheltza – all 13 members of the riding association resigned on Sept. 11 over concerns the party had ignored the wishes of local members in setting a short timeline for a nomination.
The other former NDP MPs running for the provincial party are Murray Rankin and Fin Donnelly.
As the election campaign begins, there are 41 NDP members of the 87-seat legislature, 41 BC Liberals, two members of the BC Greens, two independents and one seat vacant. The NDP has nominated 47 candidates. The Liberals and Greens did not provide a similar breakdown.
The BC Liberals have no mandated diversity policy. “We are always looking to engage people from diverse backgrounds and groups,” spokesperson Rachael Segal said in an e-mail, responding to a question about the issue.
Jillian Oliver, a senior adviser for the BC Greens, said the party has set goals for diversity, but did not provide any details on numbers.
Ms. Oliver said the party is working to come up with a full complement of candidates, and will have candidate announcements soon.
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