The sensitive and sometimes murky world of so-called "ethnic politics" continues to engulf both of B.C.'s major political parties.
It's been that way for more than a couple of years now, ever since both parties found themselves plunged into leadership races that involved mass membership sign-ups in ethnic communities.
The B.C. Liberal government finds itself dogged by a controversy involving ethnic communities it thought had disappeared once and for all. The so-called "ethnic memo" controversy was big news before the May election. This involved government political staff making contacts in ethnic communities, compiling information such as membership lists etc. while on the taxpayer dime.
The RCMP is investigating the matter after NDP leader Adrian Dix went to the police with information that he says may indicate some aspects of the Election Act had been violated through these activities.
As someone who was part of a giant media groupthink that saw the ethnic memo scandal as being a much bigger deal than the voters ultimately considered it to be at election time, I'm reluctant to predict the RCMP investigation will lead to anything substantial.
Anything short of implicating an elected official in illegal activities as opposed to now-departed political staffers is unlikely to inflict much political damage on the B.C. Liberals. Still, no government likes to have the RCMP rummaging around its dirty laundry.
The whole thing is yet another reminder of just how beholden our two parties are to the interests of ethnic communities, and how courting their votes has become of paramount importance to them.
In the last election campaign, for example, the B.C. Liberals strove to have a major presence in Chinese-Canadian media through heavy advertising. That strategy appeared to pay off, as the party held at least two seats (Burnaby North and Vancouver-Fraserview) with a heavy Chinese-Canadian population it might otherwise have lost.
Meanwhile, the NDP is about to revisit the sensitivities wrapped around that party's relationship with ethnic communities. The reform-minded Forward B.C. NDP faction wants to limit membership signups for the leadership race to 10 people a week per person, according to the Georgia Straight newspaper. This would prevent what happened in the last leadership races for both parties.
At that time, candidates or their representatives went into places like Surrey, Delta and south Vancouver and engaged in mass signups in places like religious temples and churches. It can be argued that a relatively small geographic region dictated the outcome of both races, and that both Adrian Dix and Christy Clark owed their leadership victories to this practice. Candidates from outside the Lower Mainland - notably John Horgan of the NDP and George Abbott of the B.C. Liberals - were penalized by the mass signups and were effectively frozen out of the selection process.
There will be a predictable push-back from various ethnic communities to Forward B.C. NDP's proposal. They will argue that members of their communities should not be limited in their potential participation in a democratic process.
Perhaps it's time for political parties to abandon the idea of giving every party member a vote in a leadership race and return to the days of convention delegates determining the winner of that race.
While membership signups can inject some interest (and money) into a party leadership race, so too can a leadership convention, which carries with it several days of high drama and often an exciting outcome.
A delegated convention would also ensure no particular region or community - ethnic or otherwise - has power disproportionate to its size when it comes to determining who the major political leaders are in this province.
Unfortunately, I don't see much evidence that either the NDP or the B.C. Liberals want to go back to the days of electing delegates to a leadership convention.
This means the NDP faces an interesting dilemma: put the brakes on mass membership sign-ups, or allow a relatively small geographic region to play a dominant role in choosing the party's next leader.
Both the B.C. Liberals and the NDP are about to be reminded that ethnic politics is never far away. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca
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