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Candidate Withdraws from BC NDP Nomination Bid, Saying Others Favoured

'A lot of politics' around race to replace Jenny Kwan, sources say.

Andrew MacLeod 2 May

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, April 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Emma Lee wanted a chance to be the New Democrat MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, she said, but decided to withdraw from her bid to be a candidate in an anticipated byelection after hearing from people who want to see a First Nations woman elected to the legislature for the first time.

"I listened and I considered, and I looked at it with different lenses, and I made this decision," said Lee, who declined to say who suggested she drop out.

One source told The Tyee that there were "a lot of politics" around the nomination, and others have suggested NDP officials were keen to narrow the field ahead of the nomination vote.

The constituency -- which Jenny Kwan has represented since 1996 -- is an NDP stronghold, so whoever becomes the party's candidate has a very good chance of winning the byelection and becoming the MLA, a job that pays in the order of $100,000 a year. Kwan is leaving provincial politics to run federally for the NDP in the Vancouver East riding.

Normally such nominations are hotly contested by numerous hopefuls, but after the application period closed on May 1 at 5 p.m., there was only one approved candidate. NDP president Craig Keating declined to say how many others had applied.

Melanie Mark announced last week that she would seek the nomination, and filed her application package and entry fee three days after the party opened nominations. Mark is the daughter of a Nisga'a and Gitxsan mother and a Cree and Ojibwa father, and worked for eight years in the office of the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth.

'Modern politicians have to hustle': Keating

According to Keating, more than one candidate has applied, but the party has not yet assessed anyone else's application. It's up to individuals to decide when to announce publicly that they're seeking the candidacy, he said.

The Georgia Straight has reported that Diana Day, a member of the Oneida Nation, also considered entering the race. There were questions about whether she would be eligible, however, since she won't have been a party member for the required 90 days before the nomination contest is held in June.

The paper quoted Day as saying the party has rushed the process. "It's been rammed [through]… They don’t want to have a fair, democratic nomination race."

Keating said he has also been criticized for not opening the process to find a candidate sooner. "You get it both ways," he said, adding that people who want to be in politics should be able to work in the timeframe the party sets. "Sometimes modern politicians have to hustle to face changing events."

Kwan has not yet stepped down, and legally doesn't have to until the official federal election campaign period starts. Premier Christy Clark will have six months to call a byelection once Kwan resigns.

The NDP has a gender policy where the candidate must be female in any election for a constituency that the party already holds, so from the outset it was clear the candidate to replace Kwan would be a woman.

'I've made peace with it': Lee

Lee said she would have liked to continue the legacy of having a Chinese-Canadian woman like Kwan represent the constituency, adding Kwan leaves behind big shoes to fill.

Lee said she supports the efforts to elect a First Nations woman, but that once Kwan goes, "I do know caucus would be missing a Chinese-Canadian person, let alone a woman."

The party had other ideas, Lee said, and there was a decisive moment when Mable Elmore announced her support for Mark. The endorsement came with a significant number of votes, and the period for signing up new members who could vote in the nomination had closed even before Kwan resigned, she said.

It was clear there wasn't space for her in the race, Lee said. "I wouldn't say I was being discouraged, but I think there's a lot of communicating," she said. "I've made peace with it. It's a hard decision to go into something, then to pull out."

While some have criticized the $2,000 entry fee for nominees, saying it suppresses grassroots campaigns, Lee did not personally find the fee to be a barrier. She added that it might be more of a problem for people who feared losing the money if they were not successful.

A few days before the nomination period closed, NDP leader John Horgan said the rules for the process are up to the party's executive, and that he believes it has been open. He said he expected candidates would come forward and participate.

Asked if the process was being manipulated to favour a particular candidate, he said: "I don't think so. I think we did a fairly exhaustive search of candidates, potential candidates, in the Mount Pleasant area, and there are many who are considering running, and we'll see how that goes."  [Tyee]

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