The entire 10-member executive of the North Okanagan Shuswap NDP Riding Association is expected to hand in its collective resignation this weekend.
The en-masse departure, which will happen at a riding meeting Saturday in Armstrong, is to protest the federal NDP’s decision to de-fund the riding association.
At issue, said riding association president Alice Brown of Enderby, and vice-president Kelly Stalker of Falkland, is the transfer of $7,339.09 from the federal NDP to the official agent of the failed 2015 campaign in the riding. The funds in question, in normal circumstances, would be transferred to the riding association to fund the upcoming 2019 election campaign.
“Without those funds, it would be difficult for us to operate,” said Stalker. “We’re very disappointed that the federal NDP chose to divert the funds we need to run our grassroots organization.”
Until a writ is dropped, said Brown, the executive of the riding handles all the financing. They make the budgets, set sometimes lofty goals, rent campaign offices and gather materials.
Once the writ is dropped, total financial control goes over to the candidate and the executive has no say on how any of the money is handled.
“The executive is there for four years or whatever time between elections, and the candidate and campaign team is there for the election time period, maybe five or six weeks,” said Brown.
“We feel if the executive is going to be responsible for the debt, five or six weeks down the road, that they need to be involved in the campaign team. We can’t just be shut out and say ‘we don’t need you for this, we’re handling it our way,’ but five weeks later, step back and say this resulting mess is yours.”
Throughout the 2015 election period, the riding association was aware that the campaign was likely to run a deficit. The riding association contacted the federal NDP with their concerns and were told that the campaign was completely independent. The riding association had no recourse to intervene.
“We find it surprising that on the one hand, we are told that we have no control over how they spend their money and on the other hand, they can take the money from the riding association to cover their debts,” said Brown.
“The Elections Act is very clear that responsibility for paying campaign expenses falls exclusively upon the official agent of the campaign. Failure to pay election expenses can result in jail time or fines.”
Following months of negotiations with the federal NDP, the executive of the North Okanagan Shuswap NDP has lost confidence that the federal NDP is able to operate in a manner that is ethical and transparent, said Brown.
“We’ve just reached an impasse and I don’t know how to make a change without making a noise,” she said. “We don’t want to be caught in this situation again. We feel that either the candidates and official agents sign something, saying they’ll assume responsibility for the debt, or they should keep executive on board so if there is a debt the executive is aware of it.
The NDP was represented in the riding in 2015 by candidate Jacqui Gingras, who was defeated by Conservative Mel Arnold.
Gingras, who had not heard about the mass resignations when contacted by a reporter, expressed disappointment with the executive’s decision to resign, saying the timing could have been better.
“I believe in the power of grassroots organizing and the local riding and the local community,” said Gingras.
“I think this is truly unfortunate. The timing is terrible. Momentum should be about building toward 2019 at this point.”
Jesse Strean Calvert, director of operations for Canada’s NDP, said the federal party works in close coordination with local campaigns both pre- and post-election to ensure they are in compliance with the Elections Act.
“We regret the decision of the outgoing executive, but are certain that NDP members are ready to step up and help run a strong campaign in North Okanagan -Shuswap in 2019,” said Calvert.
Saturday’s meeting is at the Oddfellows Hall in Armstrong. Brown said if no one steps up and assumes the positions being vacated by the resignations, there won’t be a riding executive for now.
The board includes president, vice-president, secretary and seven at-large members.