Former Lower Nicola Band Chief and First Nations lawyer Aaron Sumexheltza has won the NDP nomination in the provincial riding of Fraser-Nicola, sparking a bitter battle between the riding association and the B.C. NDP.
All 13 members of the Fraser-Nicola Riding Association resigned on Sept. 11, and have said that they plan to work against Sumexheltza whenever an election is called by using their experience and connections to undermine the candidate. As the riding association normally runs a candidate’s campaign, the move could mean that the NDP has to bring in organizers from elsewhere in the province.
While the next provincial election is not scheduled to take place until Oct. 2021, speculation that NDP Premier John Horgan might call a snap election as early as next week has ramped up recently.
The riding association has accused the B.C. NDP of ignoring the wishes of local members and setting such a short timeline that no one else was able to run. In a press release, the riding association claims that they received an email from NDP Nominations Coordinator Lise Fenton, stating that the Fraser-Nicola NDP nomination date had been set for Sept. 24, and that Sumexheltza had been approved to run for the nomination and was the only person who had been vetted by the Provincial Office. Fenton further started that anyone interested in running for the nomination had to give 28 days’ notice to the party, which disqualified anyone else from running as there were only 22 days between her email and the closing date of Sept. 24.
B.C. NDP president Craig Keating has defended the process, and does not dispute that once the nomination date of Sept. 24 was chosen, it was too late for anyone else to run. He says that while the party would have welcomed a contested nomination, they are pleased that Sumexheltza is the party’s candidate in the riding, saying that it puts them in a good position.
This is not the first time that the NDP has found itself embroiled in controversy in the Fraser-Nicola riding. In May 2016 NDP veteran Harry Lali — a longtime MLA and a provincial Transportation minister in the 1990s — announced that he would once again be seeking the NDP nomination after being defeated by Liberal newcomer Jackie Tegart in 2013. He was unchallenged until Dec. 2016, when Sumexheltza was persuaded to throw his hat into the ring against Lali.
In Jan. 2017, only four months before the provincial election, Horgan stated publicly that he had asked Lali to step aside and make way for Sumexheltza. Lali refused, and won the nomination, only to be defeated by Tegart by 524 votes in the May 2017 election.
The narrowness of that win has made Fraser-Nicola a key battleground riding in the next election. It is widely viewed as a riding that the provincial NDP needs to “flip” into their column if they want to win an outright majority. They currently hold 41 seats in the 87-seat Legislature — the same number as the Liberals — but govern with the support of the provincial Green Party (two seats), with whom the NDP signed a Confidence and Supply agreement in 2017. There are also two Independents sitting in the Legislature, and one seat is currently vacant.
The Liberal Party has not yet announced their candidate in Fraser-Nicola.