Premier David Eby’s ouster of a Vancouver Island NDP MLA likely won’t be reversed even if an arbitration process favours the member, say political observers.
The premier said Monday he had “no choice” but to remove Parksville-Qualicum MLA Adam Walker from caucus and strip him of his parliamentary secretary role following an investigation into a complaint by a unionized staff member that found misconduct.
Eby called the matter “serious and concerning” but said he could not reveal details other than the fact it did not involve any criminal conduct.
Walker has said he looks forward to clearing his name through an arbitration process.
But David Black, a political communications expert at Royal Roads University, said the sudden expulsion of the member was a political decision unlikely to be affected by the outcome of any further proceedings. “As we’ve seen with expulsions, these are rare, and they reflect an unspoken but generally understood ‘red line’ in any caucus whereby should a member step beyond that, they are no longer welcome,” he said.
Hamish Telford, a political scientist with the University of the Fraser Valley, said while he imagines some people manage to clear their name and return, “I can’t actually think of anyone off-hand.”
B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon tossed longtime MLA John Rustad from caucus last year over his climate-change scepticism, and Rustad is now leader of the Conservative Party of B.C.
Bill Bennett, a Kootenay B.C. Liberal MLA, was expelled in 2010 over his criticism of then premier and leader Gordon Campbell, but returned in 2014 under the next leader, Christy Clark.
Black said the Walker case likely stems from a serious issue relating to personnel in his constituency office.
The collective agreement between the BCGEU and B.C. NDP MLAs who employ unionized constituency assistants allows a party who is not satisfied with the outcome of a complaint process to put it before an arbitrator in a timely fashion.
In effect, Walker was fired before the grievance process was finished.
Politics at the end of the day is about personnel and if you have an MLA behaving in ways that don’t meet with the standard set in the party constitution, it’s problematic, said Black.
Legal bills from Walker’s office suggest that since January, there have been complaints from employees, a discipline and grievance process, a medical leave and contentious workplace policies.
“There was enough to justify what is the ‘nuclear option’ available to any party leader to kick somebody out,” said Black.
Walker could win the arbitration if there has not been a technical violation of the contract, but “I don’t think in the end that the arbitrator’s decision will make a great difference here,” he said.
“For an MLA to be expelled from caucus means to be in parliamentary Siberia because you really have no power, you can’t be on committees, you have no access to resources — you are essentially nullified really as a representative.”
Eby’s action also comes with risk for the premier and party if it negatively affects caucus morale, draws unwanted attention to the party and government, exposes a potentially embarrassing incident, or is seen as bending democratic principles — a rebuke of the voters’ choice.
The ouster also potentially puts the Parksville-Qualicum seat back in play for the next provincial election, said Black.
As an Independent, Walker, who defeated the B.C. Liberal (now B.C. United) incumbent in the 2020 election, would have few resources.
“I think a lot depends on what we learn in terms of what actually happened here but this doesn’t help anyone’s re-election at all,” said Black.
Telford said the timing of the expulsion is a challenge. “If the NDP have not already started looking for a new candidate in the riding they will be soon, and they may have that person in place before Mr. Walker has time to clear his name.”
Telford said even if Walker does clear his name, it is going to be tainted.
“It sounds like this was a union grievance and the NDP does not want to be seen on the wrong side of a worker’s rights case,” he said. “So it looks to me that the party has cut its losses with Mr. Walker.”