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Leadership campaigns run big fraud risk

[Editor's note: During this contentious political season, The Hook is pleased to provide additional perspective by running analysis pieces by veteran B.C. legislative reporter Paul Willcocks.]

The next premier probably won't be selected by cats and dogs signed up as Liberal party members.

But he or she could be.

The flap over a cat signed up as a Christy Clark-supporting Liberal, alleged fraud and mass membership sign-ups are a reminder how out-of-control the leadership contests for both parties are.

It's a selection system that looks out of some barely there democracy, rather than a province that considers an independent Elections B.C. essential -- except when it comes to campaigns to select a premier and opposition leader.

First the cat.

The Globe and Mail reported last week that a cat -- "Olympia Marie Wawryk" -- had been signed up as a Liberal party member after an application and $10 had been sent to the party in December. The cat belonged to Kristy Wawryk, a Clark supporter and Liberal riding association president.

The paper asked Wawryk about it. She initially claimed that Olympia was a great aunt who lived with her, before confessing it was her cat. (Note - it's best to tell the truth or not answer questions when a reporter calls; lies usually backfire.) 
A friend had signed the cat up as a prank, she said.

Meanwhile, a rather lame website mocking the Clark cat -- -- was already online. Sean Holman at revealed the site had been registered three days before the story broke.

And CTV found the site had been set up by a staffer at Campaign Research, a political campaign company hired by as part of George Abbott's leadership effort. 
Abbott said the staffer learned of a news story being developed on the cat and set up the site without his approval. (Which raises more questions: How did he know about the story? Why does Abbott need to hire a Toronto campaign firm?)

Next Kevin Falcon accused the Clark campaign of irregularities in signing up new members, a charge which was undermined when it came out that his campaign had signed up members of the Kamloops Blazers junior hockey team without telling them. A Falcon supporter owns the team.

The Liberal party says it will catch any fraud.

It's hard to see how. The deadline for signing up new members eligible to vote Feb. 26 for a new leader was last Friday. Falcon says he signed up 17,500 new party members; Mike de Jong claims 10,000; Clark 25,000. Abbott is silent on their numbers.

The party says 50,000 new members joined since the leadership race began.
It's hard to see how they can be checked in three weeks.

That's a big concern. Falcon did not have 700 volunteers who each signed up 25 new party members to support him. Key organizers, especially in the South Asian community, signed up hundreds of new party members.

That's allowed. And the Indo-Canadian community, in particular, has a history of recognizing the benefits of political involvement.

But the concern is that not all of those signing up are really interested in the party and its leadership candidates. They might be simply helping out a friend or politico who wants to deliver a lot of support to one candidate.

That raises concerns about what's expected in return. And mass sign-ups mean long-time, committed party members have much less say in the leadership choice.
And as both parties have opted for online and phone voting, fraud is a genuine concern.

The Liberals are looking to reduce the impact of mass sign-ups this weekend, when convention delegates will be asked to adopt a system that gives each riding 100 votes, to be allocated based on a vote of party members in the riding. Signing up 2,000 new members in one riding would be less of an advantage. The change needs a two-thirds majority to pass.

It's a shoddy system, even without touching on problems with leadership campaign donations and spending.

Parties can set their own voting rules. But Elections B.C. should be in charge of the process, to make sure the rules are followed.

Footnote: The New Democrats have similar issues. Mass sign-ups have played big roles in previous campaigns and the Adrian Dix camp irritated rivals with a flood of last-minute new members in this race.

Paul Willcocks writes about B.C. politics on his blog Paying Attention, where this first appeared.

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