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Will Simons' Passwords Block His Chance to Lead NDP?

Party deciding whether to disqualify candidate for refusing to hand over Facebook, Twitter codes.

By Andrew MacLeod 3 Mar 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.

The British Columbia NDP will likely decide on Nicholas Simons' candidacy to lead the party next week.

"Mr. Simons has submitted an application, and it's being processed," said NDP spokesperson Michael Roy in an email. "I suspect that process will conclude sometime next week. However, we're not commenting on that process."

The NDP's nomination process required candidates to give the party any passwords for social media websites. Simons said he declined to submit his passwords as it would violate not just his own privacy but the privacy of everyone he's been in touch with through social media.

"The password thing was something I couldn't really do," he said in an interview yesterday. "It's a stand on a principle... When you stand on a position of principle that you can defend, it's a comfortable position to be in."

He said he had hoped the party would change its view on the issue and that he has offered a compromise that would allow the party to thoroughly vet his online activity without his handing over the keys to his accounts forever.

Gaining access to personal messages or other private areas on Facebook would be the equivalent of going through candidates' mail that they receive at their homes or their photo albums of prints, something the party isn't doing, he said.

Simons could be barred: Byers

Simons said it would be good if the party executive would make a decision this week and approve his candidacy so that he can get things like the party membership list that he needs for his campaign.

For comparison, an official with Mike Farnworth's campaign said the party executive approved his candidacy less than 48 hours after he submitted his nomination package and an official on John Horgan's team said it took around three days for his package to gain approval. A representative of Adrian Dix's campaign said it took three days for the approval to come through for Dix.

"I want to be focusing on issues that people in the province want to hear talked about," Simons said. The social media issue has been a distraction from talking about the economy, education and health care and does nothing to restore people's confidence in politics, he said.

"There's a very real possibility that Nicholas Simons might be barred from the race for standing up for privacy rights," said Michael Byers, a former federal NDP candidate, UBC political science professor and B.C. Civil Liberties Association board member.

"It's entirely counterproductive for the party executive to even be considering this stuff," said Byers.

Byers said he hasn't decided who to support in the leadership race but it is notable that Simons was the only candidate to draw a line on the privacy issue. "I do respect the fact he has a consistent record of standing up for human rights," he said, citing Simons' work on aboriginal child protection.

Larsen also awaits approval

Meanwhile, the leadership candidate whose withdrawal from the last federal election is often cited as a reason stronger vetting is needed, said he's fine with submitting social media passwords to the party.

"I did everything they asked me to do," said Dana Larsen, a pro-cannabis activist who was first to announce his intention to enter the NDP leadership race. "All my scandals, or whatever you want to call them, are old and out there already."

Larsen said he filed his nomination package on Mar. 1, but had not heard yet whether his candidacy has been approved.

In 2008 Larsen withdrew as a federal NDP candidate when during the middle of the election campaign old videos surfaced of him lighting a mouthful of joints, taking hallucinogenic drugs and driving while stoned.

The timing left him with little choice but to resign, he said. It was the middle of an election where the party was spending $1 million a day on advertising and suddenly he was the focus of the national news, distracting from his party's message, he said.

In the current leadership campaign, he isn't seen as a representative of the party in the same way, he said. "I represent myself and my ideas," he said. "It's up to the members of the party to decide if they want me to lead them or not."

Still, he said he understood why the party would take as close a look as possible at the candidates. "They just want to make sure there are no surprises," he said. "I think the party would rather err on the side of caution and know what's going on."

Each of the candidates has their own history and things their opponents will try to take advantage of, as you'd expect in politics, he said. "People find your weakness and they poke at it."

Simons was one of 13 NDP MLAs whose opposition to Carole James' continued leadership of the party led to her December resignation.  [Tyee]

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