Leadership fees cause stir

A $15,000 entry fee and strict rules for sharing donations in the B.C. NDP leadership contest have caught some candidates by surprise.

A $15,000 entry fee and strict rules for sharing donations in the B.C. NDP leadership contest have caught some candidates by surprise.

With five candidates already declared and Vancouver-Kingsway MLA Adrian Dix expected to announce his bid on Monday, the party executive released a major overhaul of its rules last week. They include a spending limit of $175,000 and a provision that all candidates must split their donations 50-50 with the provincial head office.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali reacted with fury to the new rules, calling them “ridiculous” and comparing them to the Republican Party in the U.S. where only millionaires need apply.

The 2003 contest that selected Carole James as leader had only a $2,500 entry fee, and the decision to “skim 50 per cent right off the top” means candidates must raise $350,000 to reach the limit, Lali said.

B.C. NDP provincial secretary Jan O’Brien said the party executive decided the leadership contest must be self-financing, and the new one-member, one-vote process means substantial new costs. A phone and electronic voting system must be used, and the party is also staging a series of regional leadership forums before the April 17 vote.

The 50-50 rule already exists for local constituency fundraising, and has been extended to the leadership contest for a party that still has debt from the 2009 election and has lost membership since then.

Monday is also the cutoff for new NDP members eligible to vote in the leadership election. That has forced Dix and other candidates to sign up members before they have even begun to campaign.

Leadership candidates Mike Farnworth, John Horgan and Nicholas Simons also expressed surprise at the steep increase in the cost of the NDP leadership.

The B.C. Liberal Party has a $25,000 entry fee for leadership candidates, and a spending limit of $450,000. At least one candidate, Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon, has said that limit is too low when travel, phone banks and other costs are added up.

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