A provincial NDP policy means there might not be a white able-bodied male running for the party in the Skeena riding in next May’s provincial election.
The policy, developed over the years via motions adopted at party conventions, is called the equity mandate and is set in motion in ridings where there’s a sitting NDP MLA who is a white male and who is not running again.
That’s the case here now that veteran Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin has announced his retirement from provincial politics.
“The equity mandate is to try and make our caucus reflect the diversity of the province – that the party should find a candidate who is a woman, or a person of a minority, a visible minority, a First Nations person or someone with a disability,” explained Austin.
It doesn’t necessarily preclude able-bodied white males from seeking the party’s nomination but it does express a strong preference to find others.
Austin said the NDP has worked hard to broaden its caucus in Victoria, citing the election in 2013 of Jane Shin as the MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed, the first Canadian of Korean descent to be elected to the B.C. legislature.
“There’s also Melanie Mark, the first aboriginal MLA,” said Austin of the NDP by-election victory earlier this year of Mark in the Vancouver-Mount Pleasant riding.
He noted that the equity mandate motions adopted by the provincial NDP were voted in democratically at party conventions over the years.
“I think it’s good to have our legislature reflect the diversity within the province,” said Austin.
And if the mandate means Austin may be the last NDP candidate of his gender and background, he’s fine with that.
“I think you’ll find that white males still hold a position of privilege,” he said.
The provincial NDP has never had a female or other candidate run in the Skeena riding.
Austin was first elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009 and in 2013. Helmut Giesbrecht represented the riding for the NDP from 1991 to 2001 while Frank Howard was the NDP MLA from 1979 to 1986.
Austin did, however, have a woman as an opponent in the 2013 provincial election – Liberal Carol Leclerc who is now Terrace’s mayor.
The provincial North Coast riding is represented by NDPer Jennifer Rice who defeated another woman, Liberal Judy Fraser in the 2013 election.
The NDP’s Skeena constituency association has yet to set in motion its candidate selection timetable but party organizers met in Kamloops several weeks ago to prepare for the election.
The provincial Liberals have also yet to formally begin their process for selecting a local candidate.