Alberta NDP volunteers were ignored and demeaned, former workers say

Two Alberta NDP workers say they quit recently because they could no longer stomach a culture they describe as demeaning and ignores volunteers, with the majority of those targeted being women.

Party committed to providing a safe environment, provincial secretary says

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley speaks at a news conference in 2021. Notley said Tuesday that the party executive will look into allegations of volunteer mistreatment and concerns over the party's nomination process. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Two Alberta NDP workers say they quit recently because they could no longer stomach a culture they describe as demeaning and ignores volunteers, with the majority of those targeted being women.

"We are steamrolling constituency association presidents. We are burning through volunteers. I felt this is not who I am as a person. This is not worthy of integrity and I won't be part of it," Krista Li, a former NDP constituency president, said in an interview Wednesday.

"This should be a party run by the members, but this is the party of a few elite staffers. Nobody knows to whom they are accountable.

"That's not what I'm here for, no way no how."

Li, as well as Sharie Valentine, said they are hearing from other dissatisfied party rank and file who are seeking change but not getting it.

Their comments come a day after a leaked letter from 15 NDP riding presidents and regional executives called for an independent investigation into what they term is a pattern of mistreatment of volunteers along with questionable candidate nomination practices.

The letter, obtained by The Canadian Press, does not specify the types of mistreatment.

Valentine said she quit as a volunteer a month ago after years of doorknocking for NDP Leader Rachel Notley and the NDP.

She said she left after she could not get action on her concerns surrounding the treatment of candidates and volunteers, saying the abuse was directed toward "90 per cent women, 10 per cent men."

Valentine said staff were rude, belittling and condescending to volunteers and potential candidates. She said she is aware of volunteers also being shouted at in meetings. One constituency president told her she has "no political value."

"It brings a level of shame," said Valentine in an interview. "When this happens to new people coming in, it's embarrassing."

Li quit as president of the Calgary-Bow NDP constituency association in February after her board learned on Twitter that Druh Farrell would be their nominee, while others vying for the candidacy, including herself, had been kept waiting for months for a decision.

Li said there were other problems.

'Father knows best'

She said the constituency association had no latitude to make small outreach decisions and top-level authorization was required. Li said she was frustrated by emails and phone calls going unanswered.

Volunteer input, she said, was ignored.

"We were increasingly being frustrated and thwarted by staffers who felt that, you know, father knows best," Li said.

She said it became increasingly clear to her that the role of NDP volunteers is not as thinking, contributing equals, but simply as "brand ambassadors" for decisions made by someone else.

"I kind of felt like I was working at a store at the mall, in that we're just repping the brand. We're not necessarily having any big say in things," she said.

Brandon Stevens, the NDP's provincial secretary, responded in a statement. He said they can't publicly discuss specific human resources matters but that there is an appeal process for denied nomination candidates.

Stevens added, "the party has also been engaged in a comprehensive review of our anti-harassment policy to broaden and update it to a respect in the workplace policy."

"We are looking forward to considering recommendations for a new policy at our upcoming party council meeting," he said.

"We are committed to providing a safe and respectful environment for volunteers, employees, and all Albertans."

Valentine said she doesn't believe that Notley and Stevens will resolve the concerns.

"All they're doing is trying to make it go away," she said.

Both said they want to support the party, but not without some major cultural changes first.

"I want the NDP to form government. I want to be able to put a sign on my fence proudly [that says], `Yes this is who I'm voting for,"' Valentine said.

"If they don't get their stuff together, there's no way they're going to win."