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Braid: It's Notley's turn to face a revolt because of party arrogance

Party loyalists complain of high-handed staff lording it over volunteers, outright bullying, and candidates being forced on ridings

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The rebels in the United Conservative Party won their fight. Premier Jason Kenney will resign. The party’s internal anger engine is low on fuel, for the moment.

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But another party now has a serious revolt of its own. That’s the NDP.

Party loyalists complain of high-handed staff lording it over volunteers, outright bullying, and candidates being forced on ridings, shutting out people who have worked for months toward a nomination.

Leader Rachel Notley apologized on the weekend after initially playing down the issue. She promised to take it seriously and ordered an outside investigation.

That happened only after the Canadian Press made the conflict public.

A letter from 15 riding executives had been sent three months earlier, detailing complaints and demanding reform.

The party hoped to stickhandle quietly around the problems until after the election next May. As usual, the only antidote is publicity.

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The NDP central command should be very alarmed, because all 15 ridings that complained are outside Edmonton.

They range from Peace River to Vegreville, Innisfail, Calgary, Rocky Mountain House and beyond — exactly the areas where the NDP has to capture seats if it hopes to win the next election.

Three riding volunteers with grievances also serve as party vice presidents for the entire NDP southern and central regions, and the NDP rural caucus. They’re serious players in the main party — not the sort to alienate with an election coming.

Edmonton riding associations are the NDP fat cats. All but one have an MLA to back them. They own the influence in the NDP provincial caucus, and probably will again after the next election.

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By stark contrast, not a single NDP member was elected in any of the 15 ridings that brought the complaints (including three in Calgary).

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Part of the problem is the central party putting heavy pressure on these “orphan” riding groups, imposing candidates or tipping the scales toward a favourite.

But the NDP is no longer a party that’s forced to drop willing losers into the majority of ridings, just to show the flag.

The party today is now a big, competitive, well-funded outfit. Many people, including newcomers, want to be candidates. They have the crazy idea that they can matter.

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This highly centralized, top-down party hasn’t made the transition. It falls back on the old ways.

The canary down this mineshaft was the resignation of Calgary Bow riding president Krista Li in February after former city councillor Druh Farrell suddenly popped up as a candidate.

Li had worked toward the nomination for months; but then, she said, the local board was “blindsided” and Farrell was forced on them. The party maintains the nomination could have been contested.

The letter from the 15 ridings was sent about that time. When it finally became public, other disillusioned New Democrats turned to social media.

One riding president who quit said, “It was bullying and blatant disrespect from a staffer . . . that ultimately pushed me to resign from my role in the CA (constituency association) and step back from the party.”

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He was “increasingly frustrated with the lack of communication and toxic culture from staffers and key staff within the party.”

There’s virtually no party criticism of Notley herself. She got 98 per cent support in a leadership review, while Kenney quit when only 51.4 per cent of party voters backed him.

The majority of workers in any political campaign are unpaid volunteers. They vastly outnumber the paid party staffers who serve as the contact point with local ridings and volunteers.

The stupidest thing a paid political official can do — absolutely the most thoughtless, arrogant practice — is to bully, command and intimidate the very people willing to work for nothing.

They have nothing to lose but their illusions.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

Twitter: @DonBraid

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