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Timing of leadership vote divides B.C. New Democrats

NDP MP Fin Donnelly speaks during a rally at the Kitsilano Coast Guard station after it was closed permanently in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday February 19, 2013.


A bitter fight is brewing within the B.C. NDP over an attempt by the party brass to hold a spring leadership contest. On Wednesday, another high-profile New Democrat said the May 25 date will likely keep him out of the race.

"If it's May, I think that's too soon for me," Fin Donnelly, the MP for New Westminster-Coquitlam said from Ottawa. The May date, he said, "would definitely favour someone with an existing team and ready to go."

Mr. Donnelly said he thinks the party needs to take time for renewal. "If I am going to leave a job which I am really enjoying, I want to know this party is interested in taking a close look at how it operates."

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Mr. Donnelly's view echoes that of fellow B.C. MP Nathan Cullen, who is considering a bid but says the proposed date is too early. Jinny Sims, another B.C. MP, said Wednesday that after floating the idea of a run she has ruled it out because she wants to focus on her federal responsibilities.

However, Ms. Sims said the provincial party should hold off on a vote for various reasons, including the need to attract candidates. "There seems to be too much of a hurry," she said, suggesting the "gene pool" of leadership candidates will be better with a delay. There have been some suggestions within the party that the leadership vote should be postponed until 2015.

Few candidates outside the provincial NDP caucus have indicated an interest, though some have suggested that a number of B.C. mayors might be up for running. On Wednesday, Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin ruled himself out. "The position of Mayor of Victoria is the best job anywhere and I am not done yet," he said in a statement when his office was asked about leadership interest.

The B.C. NDP's provincial council will decide this week whether to confirm the May 25 date recommended by the party's executive council.

A close vote on the issue could deepen divisions in the opposition party, reeling from its unexpected defeat in the recent provincial election, as it prepares for a November convention that was supposed to set it on a path to reform and rejuvenation.

Still, a later date could have consequences for current Leader Adrian Dix, who has said he will step down once a successor is chosen. A later date would increase pressure for Mr. Dix to step down soon to make way for an interim leader to take the helm of the party through the next year.

A shorter race tends to favour front-runners who already have a solid base of support and an ability to raise money. Mr. Dix raised $200,000 for the 2011 leadership race, considerably more than the two closest contenders. MLA Mike Farnworth, who came second in 2011, is considering a run again and is thought to have that insiders' edge. Mr. Farnworth took a hands-off approach to the issue Wednesday, suggesting it's up to the provincial council to decide. "They'll make a decision. I'm fine with it, whatever they decide."

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Peter Julian, the MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, stood out among MPs considering a shift to provincial politics. He said the timing of the convention won't have any bearing on his own deliberations about whether to run. "I won't be making my decision on the basis of which month it is," he said.

Mr. Dix said Wednesday that May 25 is reasonable. "It would be almost twice as long as the last leadership campaign," he noted in an interview. He recalled that during the 2011 NDP leadership race, he had wanted an earlier date but was overruled.

"People will have their own tactical considerations," said Mr. Dix. "You want to give everyone a chance to participate and to succeed, but we also have to get on with the job."

He said the date was set after discussions with the presidents of each of the NDP's 85 riding associations and reflected a compromise.

But John Horgan, who came third in the 2011 race and recently ruled out a new leadership bid, repeated his view that there's no need to rush a leadership decision. "We shouldn't foreclose on other opportunities. We have got four years ahead of us. Let's take the time to pick the right person."

In Victoria, MLAs attending a caucus meeting came down on either side of the issue.

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MLA Norm Macdonald said waiting to 2015 is "a stretch" for a party in need of full-time leadership. "That's a long time to be without the person who is going to take you forward."

But Robin Austin called for the 2015 date. "Personally I'd like to see as many people involved as possible and if by delaying it, that encourages other people to come on board, then I think that's an advantage," he said.

"If there are others who feel [May 25 is] too early and discourages them from being in the race, I think that's to the detriment of the NDP overall."

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About the Authors
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

B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More


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