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NDP leadership candidate in B.C. settles social-media dispute with party

The standoff over NDP access to the social-media sites of would-be party leader Nicholas Simons is over.

The two-term MLA from the Sunshine Coast and the BC New Democrats said on Monday they had reached an agreement in the dispute that has prompted an investigation by B.C.'s Privacy Commissioner, who has described the situation as a Canadian first.

Many companies review social media sites while considering job applicants, but the BC NDP, wary of embarrassing material about any of the five candidates turning up during the campaign for the April 17 leadership vote, demanded passwords so they could vet the sites themselves.

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Mr. Simons said his social-media sites never had any privacy settings, meaning the party was asking for the keys to a door that was not locked.

"I've simply shown the party that all my network sites are viewable to the public," Mr. Simons said in an interview. "There are no privacy settings. My site has been open to all. This was always the case."

The party has agreed he does not have to had over the passwords, and Mr. Simons has said it can now review of the sites. Asked why he didn't just tell the party that from the start, he said the whole issue was breaking new ground. "It's going to be an interesting public debate in terms of future requests," he said.

However, the vetting process has not yet taken place, so Mr. Simons is not officially a candidate for the leadership of the New Democrats. One other candidate is also under review, though all five have been on the campaign trail.

Mr. Simons said he was pleased the party was patient enough to talk through to an agreement. "The resolution was there and we found it," he said "Now we can go on to other important issues."

Michael Roy, a party spokesman, said the NDP was content that it could now proceed with its social-media policy. "The intent of the policy remains," he said.

B.C's Information and Privacy Commissioner has said the NDP's request for the passwords was unprecedented, so she launched a process to come up with findings and guidance that might be relevant to other organizations, even beyond the NDP leadership race.

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Elizabeth Denham said she hopes the results of her review would give some "best practice and guidance" to organizations operating in British Columbia and elsewhere.

The NDP defended the request as reasonable. "Someone who is running for the leadership of our party is asking the B.C. NDP to put all the party's resources behind them to help them become premier of the province, so we think it's really important that we avoid any surprises," Jan O'Brien, provincial secretary for the BC NDP, said in an interview last week.

All of the candidates, aside from Mr. Simons, handed over their codes, although one, John Horgan, described the request as "excessive."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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