Should Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin follow through on hints that he will not run in the May 2017 provincial election, his decision will set in motion a party plan to broaden the gender and ethnic make up of its nomination candidates here.
“Our equity and diversity guidelines are that we’re searching for candidates as diverse as British Columbia,” explained BC NDP official Trish Webb.
It doesn’t mean that white males cannot seek the NDP nomination for Skeena but party officials would take notice should only white males be put forward as nomination candidates, she said.
“The party would step in and say can you do something about this,” Webb said.
She stressed that the search for a diverse group of candidates is a guideline only and not strictly party policy.
“This is not self-limiting to say that no white men need apply, but it is to say that can you find candidates that better represent the community.”
As it is, the current NDP caucus at the provincial legislature is 43 per cent female, a statistic bolstered with the recent addition of two women from two February by-election victories in the Vancouver-Mount Pleasant and Coquitlam-Burke Mountain ridings.
One of those elected, Melanie Mark, was also the first aboriginal woman elected to the provincial legislature.
Webb said the NDP’s record of promoting diversity among its candidates dates back to 1949 when Frank Calder, a Nisga’a, became the first First Nations person to be elected to a Canadian provincial legislature thanks to a victory in the Atlin riding.
Calder was elected as a Cooperative Commonwealth Federation member of the provincial legislature, a predecessor to the NDP which was formed in the early 1960s.
Webb said the NDP record of diversity extends to having the first provincial legislators of Chinese, Korean and Filipino extraction.
Austin has yet to officially state whether he will run in the May 2017 provincial election but hinted earlier this year that he was leaning toward not running.
Austin said he will make his decision after the spring legislative session ends, approximately one year before the May 2017 vote and a time when party officials want to determine if current legislators will run again or not.
A provincial NDP analysis of why it failed to become the governing party in the 2013 election included comments on broadening its candidate base.
“While the party has recorded great success in increasing access for women to represent our party as candidates, similar efforts must also be directed at BC’s increasingly diverse ethnic communities,” it stated.
“The [NDP] provincial executive should consider changes that would ensure that our slate of 2017 candidates fully reflects the ethnic diversity of the province.”
The NDP has never nominated a woman to run in Skeena but the provincial Liberals have twice, current Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc who ran unsuccessfuly against Austin in the 2013 provincial election and Juanita Hatton who ran in the 1991 provincial election.
Joanne Monaghan, a former Kitimat mayor, ran unsuccessfully in Skeena for the now-defunct Social Credit party in the 1983 provincial election and Anita Norman was the Skeena Green party candidate in the 2009 provincial election.
In the neighbouring North Coast riding, NDP candidate Jennifer Rice, a Prince Rupert city councillor, became that riding’s first female provincial legislator by defeating Liberal candidate Judy Fraser in the 2013 provincial election.