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After recent dropouts, how are B.C.'s provincial parties vetting their candidates?

This spring, at least a handful of candidates have withdrawn or been dropped from the Oct. 19, 2024, election race following criticism over past online posts.

The recent dropout of several provincial candidates due to past online statements is drawing scrutiny about how political parties are vetting their nominees for the 2024 election.

Political consultants in B.C. say damaging revelations about candidates have surfaced this spring because most election readiness committees are volunteer-run, and they lack the necessary resources to carry out thorough checks of politicians’ social media histories.

“Parties are generally ineffective at taking all of the appropriate steps necessary to successfully vet candidates,” said Bill Tieleman, a former strategist for the B.C. NDP.

This spring, at least a handful of candidates have withdrawn or been dropped from the election race following criticism over past online posts.

Most recently, BC United leader Kevin Falcon cut Asad Gondal as a candidate on Tuesday, just days after announcing his nomination in the Surrey-North riding because he refused to adhere to the party’s views on the LGBTQ+ community and the war in Gaza.

The party decision came after two letters written by Gondal, who is president of the B.C. Muslim Association, were posted to X. One accused Israel of committing genocide following Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, attack on the country, and the other urged people with “same-sex attractions” not to act on their “involuntary thoughts or desires” and if they do, to “repent.”

B.C. United was asked for further comment, but did not respond to Postmedia on Wednesday.

Last month, B.C. Conservative candidate Damon Scrase for Courtenay-Comox withdrew from the election race after he was criticized for social media posts from the summer of 2022. One included claims that Pride “has become a celebration of fringe sexuality” where “perverts expose themselves to children for kicks.”

To be considered by a party, a provincial candidate is required to fill out an extensive application involving questions about their political beliefs and social media accounts.

B.C. NDP provincial director Heather Stoutenburg told Postmedia that, “like every party, we conduct interviews to ensure that our candidates are aligned with our inclusive values.”

However, what happens after the application is submitted varies depending on each political party’s resources and constitution.

“For some parties, the application is reviewed by a large election-readiness committee. Others just have a smaller candidate selection committee,” said Allie Blades, a political strategist in B.C.

“A majority of the vetting work is being done by volunteers. The more applications they receive, the more the party’s resources are spread thin.”

For the B.C. Conservatives, growing support in the polls has meant more nominees applying to become candidates — and a greater need for the resources to vet them thoroughly.

To address their less-established volunteer base, the party says it has contracted a “professional research service” to delve into applicants’ social media histories.

Executive-director Angelo Isidorou told Postmedia on Wednesday that the B.C. Conservatives’ vetting process involves a 50-page application, a criminal background check, a nominal fee, and social media scanning.

“The grounds for disqualifying an applicant are multi-various, including an incomplete package, flagged criminal background check, incomplete fee, or social media posts that are inconsistent with the values of the party,” Isidorou said in an email.

The B.C. Conservative Party, which is seeking to fill a majority of spots in its ridings, lost a second candidate this spring following controversy that erupted over their social media activity.

The party dropped Ladysmith-Oceanside candidate Stephen Malthouse shortly after backlash mounted against the family doctor for his show of support for the anti-COVID mandate movement in videos of him posted to social media.

Blades says that despite any red flags raised by parties’ vetting committees, the final say about who gets nominated is in the hands of the leader of the provincial party.

“In the last two decades, there has been a huge shift in what is now available about politicians’ opinions because of their online history. Because of the generation we’re in now, what is said on social media can come back to bite you in the butt.”

B.C. voters are scheduled to go to the polls on Oct. 19.