The provincial New Democrats have claimed they'll be more open and accountable than the Liberals if they win government. But the party's top staffer cast doubt on those claims during last week's New Democrat membership form controversy. The controversy was triggered when MLA Mable Elmore, as well as individuals who were alleged to be supporters of leadership candidate Adrian Dix, dropped off a group of forms at the party's provincial office on January 17.
That was just before the deadline to submit those applications and for their signatories to eligible to participate in the coming leadership vote.
But some of those forms didn't have a membership payment attached, as required. Instead, leadership candidate Harry Lali alleged packages of money were brought in separately.
Complaints were filed by Mr. Lali and competitor Mike Farnworth's campaign manager Richard Tones. But, during an interview last Tuesday evening, the party's provincial secretary Jan O'Brien repeatedly refused to disclose whether such a requirement actually existed.
The interview began with what should have been a simple question: "What are the requirements in terms of having money affixed to forms?"
Ms. O'Brien's response, however, wasn't so simple.
"Each individual has to pay for their own membership forms and that's what we're concerned about. And the forms have a number of spaces on them that have to be filled in by the individual that signs," she said.
So we tried again: "And the money has to be affixed to the form?"
"There's different ways that it comes in to us. It comes in through batches and through credit cards and online. So it depends on how we receive the forms."
Uh-huh. "But if it's a cheque or cash, the money has to be affixed to the form?"
"We do batch our forms so that they come in groups as well," she said, continuing to dodge and weave.
So, after two additional tries at being polite, we bluntly told Ms. O'Brien it would "make it a Hell of a lot easier" if she would just say "yes or no" to whether such a requirement exists.
The inscrutable reply: "Sometimes questions can't be answered with a yes or no. You have to look at all the factors that are around them and we will be doing that. W'ere very diligent about ensuring our individual forms are scrutinized and processed in accordance with our standards."
But sometimes questions can be answered with yes or no if you obtain a confidential email from Ms. O'Brien that was sent on January 13 in which she advised the leadership campaigns that, "Each individual applicant's fee must be attached to their membership form."
Nevertheless, last Wednesday, Ms. O'Brien decided that requirement "created an unnecessary step and extra work for some campaigns" and was "contrary to the BC NDP's standard way of handling the receipt of more than 10 membership forms at a time."
Indeed, in a later interviews with the media, she described it as more of a "guideline" - one that wasn't sent to constituency associations.
So the provincial secretary decided to continue processing the contest forms, noting there is also a "provision" for doing so even after the deadline to submit them has passed.
Which, perhaps, explains why Ms. O'Brien refused - seven times - to confirm the existence of the requirement to have membership fees attached to individual forms.