The search for Alexa McDonough's successor is off to a rocky start. And the party has yet to nominate its candidate.
But it isn't clear what—if any—effect a messy misunderstanding between the Nova Scotia federal NDP campaign office and wannabe-standard bearer Irvine Carvery over membership fees might have on the upcoming campaign and/or —and perhaps more importantly—the party's future reputation in the black community.
The problem, which is documented in a series of emails, apparently began last Tuesday (September 2, 2008) when Shaun Carvery, Irvine's son, showed up at the party's Nova Scotia campaign office to pay the necessary fees to sign up a number of new party members the Carvery campaign had gathered in advance of tonight’s (Sept. 8) party nomination meeting at the Dal Student Union Building.
Shaun told provincial organizer Joanne Lamey he wanted to pay for all of the memberships using his credit card so that—according to an email she later wrote—“he could collect the points.”
Lamey told him he couldn’t do that. For starters, party rules and provincial legislation forbid officials from accepting contributions from one person on behalf of another. Leaving aside the legality, of course, it’s also morally messy. It conjures up Mulroney-era images of homeless people and drunks being signed up as instant party members, then bussed to nominating conventions where their sole function was to pack meetings and steal nominations.
Lamey says she told Shaun there were other options. The would-be members could come to the provincial office themselves, sign up and pay the fees. Or they could sign up online using their own credit cards. Or Shaun could collect their signed applications and their individual payments in the form of cash, cheques or credit card information, and bring those into the office where she said party officials would be happy to officially register them.
That apparently wasn’t the message Shaun heard. He later told his father the party said people had to come to the office individually in order to be registered. And he added that Lamey had questioned the bona fides of a number of the names he had tried to submit. They’d wanted to join as members of the same family, meaning they’d pay a reduced rate. Lamey, Shaun told his father, had said some of them were “too” old to be considered members of the same family, and would have to pay the higher individual rate.
Soon after, Irvine Carvery sent an “extremely important” email to Margie MacDonald at the NDP office asking for clarification on both issues. Later, he sent out an email to a number of party officials and members criticizing the decision.
All those his team had signed up, he said, were “representative of the poor, single moms, people of African descent and other disenfranchised people… who are not represented on our membership list…The unfortunate part of this is that the party had an opportunity to start engaging this group to build membership in a very under-represented group,” he pointed out, adding equally pointedly: “As I go through this nominating process, I can’t help but notice that the majority of the addresses are single-family homes, condos or apartments in high-rent areas. I see no addressees in Uniacke Square, Mulgrave Park or Bayer’s Westwood.”
As for questioning the family connections of some potential members, Carvery expressed anger. “Who are you to determine what a family makeup should be? Marginalized people living in poverty sometimes have to live together to survive. It’s called an extended family.”
In an email to Carvery, organizer Lamey insisted that all membership applications were subjected to the “same scrutiny if there were questions surrounding the membership application… This is always the case in contested nominations and it’s not pleasant for party staff,” she said, adding, “We’re just doing our jobs.
Though insisting that the party had followed the rules and that its officials had acted appropriately, everyone was at pains to placate Carvery, one of Halifax’s most prominent and respected black community leaders.
“I’m sure I speak for everyone, Irvine,” wrote organizer Lamey. “We very much want you and the new people you bring to the party to feel welcome and at home in the NDP.”
Added Ed Wark, the NDP’s federal campaign director in Nova Scotia: “As a party, we are very appreciative of the work you have done engaging people and regret the misunderstanding.”