VICTORIA - A grassroots movement from within British Columbia's dejected New Democratic Party launched an effort Monday to rebuild the political party and place modern-thinking people in positions of power at the NDP's November convention in Vancouver.
Sage Aaron, a Vancouver communications officer with deep party roots, said Forward BC NDP was formed following a series of informal coffee-table meetings after the party's devastating May election defeat.
Aaron said the Forward movement introduced itself on Facebook and Twitter, looking for interested people and input, but she stressed that overthrowing current NDP Leader Adrian Dix isn't on the group's agenda.
Aaron said Forward BC NDP is seeking to change party thinking and put new people in positions of power rather than get into a battle over Dix's leadership.
"Specifically, we're focused on the party, not the leadership," Aaron said. "The provincial election in May was a pretty brutal and devastating loss for the B.C. NDP. It was also a wake-up call that it's time for our party to change."
The NDP held an almost 20-point lead in the polls before the vote but ended up losing its fourth straight election to the B.C. Liberals.
Aaron said the Forward movement's social media launch has already generated provincewide interest.
"It took off with a leap," she said. "What it has done is it's given us an opportunity to reach some of the members we haven't been able to catch on the phone or face to face. It's also been a signal that folks can reach out to us."
Aaron said she has not received any official response from NDP brass or Dix.
"We're looking at renewing the leadership of the B.C. NDP by involving new voices," she said. "What we're looking at is building a stronger, more united party through renewal and modernization. We want to identify and engage the next tier of voters."
November's convention includes an election of a new party executive, and members could support a call for a future leadership contest.
Former North Vancouver councillor and defeated NDP candidate Craig Keating is challenging current party president Moe Sihota for the position at the November convention.
Aaron said the Forward group wants to elect delegates who will attend the convention with voting power.
Delegate-selection meetings for the convention are currently underway in ridings across B.C.
"As the convention delegate selection meetings come up, we want to make sure that we reach out to as many folks as possible and talk to them about our goals," said Aaron.
Shortly after the NDP's spring election defeat, Dix announced an election-review panel would examine why the NDP lost, despite its large lead and almost universal media forecasts of victory.
The five-member, labour-dominated panel is slated to provide the results of its widespread consultations at the convention.
When the legislature adjourned in late July, Dix said he would spend the coming months reflecting on his future as NDP leader.
Dix has not made any further statements, and officials in his office say there is nothing to report on the leadership front.
Some New Democrats have publicly said the party needs to change its direction following May's bitter defeat, while others have said Dix should leave as leader.
Defeated Vancouver NDP candidate Matt Toner has said the party needs to modernize itself, let go of the NDP's left-wing ideological roots.
Vancouver consultant Clay Suddaby, a seasoned fixture of the NDP's backrooms, has also said Dix should be signalling his exit as leader. The party lost its way under Dix, Suddaby said, choosing to suppress the party's past success out of fear of alienating potentially new voters and thereby rejecting old New Democrats.
Aaron said the Forward group has about 40 members from across the province. She said Forward has contacted current elected B.C. NDP members about its plans, but she did not provide any names.
Aaron is the daughter of veteran Surrey NDP MLA Sue Hammell, who was credited with helping Dix win the support of many Indo-Canadian New Democrats during his leadership victory in April 2011.
Aaron said she's served previously on the NDP's provincial executive, worked as a digital media strategist during the NDP's 2009 election campaign, played a key backroom role in newly elected New Democrat Jane Shin's Burnaby-Lougheed win in May, and is connected to the Vision Vancouver team of Mayor Gregor Robertson.
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