The British Columbia New Democratic Party has said its paying party president Moe Sihota a stipend using a "generous, earmarked gift from the labour movement." According to Jim Sinclair, the head of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, Mr. Sihota solicited those donations from the labour movement. In an interview, Mr. Sinclair said his own group contributed $4,000. Mr. Sinclair said other unions also donated, although he didn't know which ones, or how much they had contributed. "Moe approached the labour movement and said I'd like to get some help to do this job" sometime after he was elected president, Mr. Sinclair said. "I want to do it but it's a big job. He approached a number of unions and some said yes and some said no."
The party admitted to paying Mr. Sihota a stipend after we learned the he had revealed its source had its during a conference call with constituency association presidents last Thursday, following a volatile three-day caucus retreat.
That earmarked gift from the unions contrasts sharply with the party's public efforts to distance itself from labour, which included a 2005 move to reduce their influence at party conventions.
In an email, New Democrat provincial secretary Jan O'Brien would only say that stipend is "commensurate with what other BCNDP staff receive." But political pundit Bill Tieleman last week reported sources had told him that number was "to the tune of between $60,000 and $100,000 a year."
Public Eye has been unable to confirm that report. But Mr. Sihota - who was elected to his present post in November 2009 - told constituency association presidents, "In my case, labour has traditionally made a donation to provide a stipend for the president because this is a full-time job. And that tradition has continued in this instance."
Ms. O'Brien didn't respond to a question as to which of Mr. Sihota's predecessors received a stipend, instead stating, "The role of party president has always been a demanding position requiring nearly full-time attention. We've been fortunate that the last two people in that role were able to dedicate a great deal of their time to the role."
Burnaby councillor Sav Dhaliwal was Mr. Sihota's immediate elected predecessor, having briefly served as president after British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union organizing and field services director Jeff Fox stepped down in 2009.
Maura Parte, who was president from 2001 to 2003, said via a New Democrat caucus spokesperson that she didn't receive a stipend.
Ms. Parte's predecessor, now MLA Bruce Ralston, didn't respond to a request for comment.
But Patrice Pratt, who was president from 1992 to 1996, said, "I love to say this, I actually paid to be president of the NDP" - a reference to the incidental expenses she picked up out of her own pocket.
Ms. Pratt said she was a "well-paid" union employee at the time. And "certainly if I went to a national NDP convention I was in a hotel, a modest hotel, and I had meals paid and I had my flight paid. But that's it - expenses. I got zippo, nothing more."
Ian Aikenhead, who was president from 1989 to 1992, also didn't see any money. "I was a volunteer. Now, that was more than 20 years ago, and I don't know what traditions have developed since that time," he said.
Ms. O'Brien stated that, thanks to his stipend, Mr. Sihota is "able to dedicate his full attention to building our party, leading the executive team, and working with the caucus in Victoria as we build for the 2013 election."
Ms. O'Brien didn't respond to a question as to which unions were behind the stipend - although their donations will be recorded in the party's annual report to Elections British Columbia.
British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union spokesperson Chris Bradshaw said his labour group "is not contributing to the fund that is going toward paying Moe Sihota's stipend."
As for the British Columbia Federation of Labour, Mr. Sinclair said its contribution isn't "a big chunk of money. But value for money...It's certainly no surprise the labour movement gives money to the party on a regular basis. But it's a small piece of funding compared to the money we normally give."
Mr. Sinclair said he didn't know whether the labour movement funded stipends for other New Democrat presidents.
Mr. Sihota didn't respond to a request for comment.