Sources have said four of the last six provincial New Democrat presidents didn't receive a stipend from the party, even though the office's present occupant Moe Sihota has said it's a "tradition" for labour to make "donation to provide" such a benefit. The party confirmed it was providing Mr. Sihota with a stipend using a "generous, earmarked gift from the labour movement" after we learned he discussed the matter with constituency association presidents last week. During a conference call with those presidents, Mr. Sihota said, "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." The party hasn't said which former party presidents received a stipend.
For his own part, Mr. Sihota's immediate predecessor Burnaby city councillor Sav Dhaliwal - who served as president for five months in 2009 - stated, "It's an internal matter to the party and it would be quite inappropriate for me to discuss how the party spends its operating budget. I don't think it's even appropriate to ask how we spend things internally."
But British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union spokesperson Lynn Bueckert said their now former organizing and field services director Jeff Fox didn't receive a stipend from the party during his presidential term - which went from 2003 to June 2009.
Former presidents Maura Parte (2001 to 2003), Patrice Pratt (1992 to 1996) and Ian Aikenhead (1989 to 1992) have also said they didn't receive a stipend. MLA Bruce Ralston, who was president from 1996 to 2001, hasn't responded to a request for comment.
Mr. Sihota also hasn't returned calls. But his stipend is stirring up concern among some party members and creating an attack point for the Liberals.
Brian Fisher, who ran against Mr. Sihota for the presidency in November 2009 and received 96 votes to his competitor's 364, thinks the man who beat him should be compensated for his time.
"I think it's great that Moe's being paid. I want him to do a job for us. And I know how much time that can take." But the fact the stipend is being financed the labour movement causes him "concern about what the means about who calls the shots within the New Democrats."
"That's not saying that there's skullduggery," continued Mr. Fisher, a BC Hydro Corp. senior strategic planner whose presidential bid promised more democracy within the party. "But it has that appearance."
Mr. Fisher said he thinks news of the stipend will also create "more backlash" against Ms. James, who earlier this week conceded some New Democrats are trying to oust her.
"Lots of people are feeling they can't be heard regardless of which side of the (party) spectrum they're on. You're either in the inner circle or your out. And whether that's true or not, it creates that impression," he explained.
Ms. James has been under internal pressure since she expelled Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson from the opposition benches for publicly criticizing her speech to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities annual general meeting.
She hasn't responded to repeated requests for comment regarding Mr. Sihota's stipend, which the party has described as being "commensurate with what other BCNDP staff receive."
Nor has Ms. James commented on British Columbia Federation of Labour head Jim Sinclair's statement that Mr. Sihota's solicited the labour movement for the donations that are funding the stipend.
But the Liberals, whose own president Mickey Patryluk has said she's a "consummate volunteer," are responding.
"This shows Carole James has been brutally dishonest with British Columbians when she says the NDP is distancing itself from organized labour because this proves those connections have never been tighter," said cabinet minister Barry Penner.