Rebuilding trust: Appadurai wants to give NDP back to the grassroots

By Alec Lazenby August 29, 2022

Anjali Appadurai is prepared to give the provincial government the jolt she believes is needed to get it back on track.

“I think that the people that I represent, and the people whose call I answer to step into this role, have been losing hope for a long time,” she told BC Today this week in a wide-ranging interview.

The 32-year-old climate activist and former federal NDP candidate for Vancouver—Granville — which she lost by less than 500 votes in last year’s election — has launched an insurgent campaign against front-runner and former attorney general David Eby. She says that she wants to give the party a chance for a “democratic race rather than a coronation.”

Supported by environmental NGOs such as Dogwood and, as well as grassroots members of the party, Appadurai raised over $40,000 by August 7 to secure her ticket in the leadership race.

As the director of campaigns for the Climate Emergency Unit and a former collaborator with West Coast Environmental Law, it is no surprise that Appadurai, a speaker at the 2011 UN Climate Conference in Durban, has put forth a climate-centric platform that promises to scrap the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Site C dam, as well as end public funding for fossil fuel companies.

But she says it would be a mistake to call her a single-issue candidate. Rather, she feels the climate crisis must be a consideration behind all government policies, including housing and health care, two of the biggest issues currently facing the province.

Appadurai says her focus has always been on equity, noting her first political memory is of going on a hunger strike when she was four.

“I lived in India at the time, and there’s a lot of deep poverty in the place I come from,” she recalled. “I remember having seen a girl my age, digging through a garbage can, and in my kid logic, in my mind, I was like, ‘If I don’t eat my food, it will [go] where other people can have access to it’.”

Anjali Appadurai in a photograph provided by her campaign.

As premier, Appadurai says she would take money currently being spent on fossil fuel projects and re-invest it to build more housing.

“Reinvesting in an emergency housing response, because housing is a huge part of climate action, [and] immediately investing in a transition for workers” should be a priority, she said. “Tackling the climate emergency must put workers first.”

Appadurai chastised the province for falling behind on its housing targets. During the 2017 election, the NDP promised to “build 114,000 affordable rental, non-profit, co-op and owner-purchase housing units through partnerships over ten years.”

In the 2018 budget, however, the province’s Homes for BC plan pledged $6.2 billion over 10 years for a far reduced 33,700 units. Since then, 23,500 have been either completed or put into development through various grant and loan programs, according to Policynote.

“We need the province to really take leadership on that issue and say, ‘BC housing is going to build this number of houses’ and actually stick to that promise,” she said. “We’re so behind on our five-year and 10-year targets for housing. And we say right now that we don’t have money for those things, but that’s because we’re investing money in the wrong places.”

Taking a primary care focus

As premier, Appadurai’s solutions to the ongoing health-care crisis would focus on investing in primary care facilities and the doctors and nurses that staff them.

“We know that primary care produces a whole host of better health outcomes for people [through] preventative care, and the costs are actually lower,” she said. “And it’s more carbon-friendly … than [after-the-fact] care when people are already sick.”

As for the overdose crisis, which she says is “incredibly complicated,” Appadurai would focus on getting non-prescription safe supply up and running to reduce reliance on the toxic illicit drug supply, and invest in mental health supports.

“I think it’s important to remember that it was bad policy-making that created this crisis in the first place,” she said, referring to drug policies that made it illegal for users to purchase illicit substances, pushing them further into reliance on the black market.

“So to actually save lives, we need a no-nonsense, no drama, adequate, adequately funded, safe supply.”

On the competition

Appadurai says she has no ill will toward Eby and that she is running to take the province in a new direction.

“I’m not campaigning against my opponent. I’m campaigning for an alternative vision of B.C.,” she said. “I think that the people that I represent and the people that I’m accountable to have a different definition of what it means to be qualified for office, because what we’ve seen is that our current government has not been up to the challenge.”

As a political outsider, Appadurai has to contend with the knowledge that many of those she’d be working alongside as premier have already publicly endorsed her opponent. Of 57 members of the NDP caucus, 48 have stepped forward to support Eby.

“I think I would go into this role having faith that we all want the best for British Columbia,” she said. “I would simply stay accountable primarily to the people who put me in this position, which is the party grassroots, and demonstrate [that] at every opportunity.”

Appadurai says she would “come in with the understanding that we’re all on the same page and that we’re all in a party that is making a return to its roots as a worker-first, people-first party” to unite the party in a post-John Horgan era.

But at the end of the day, Appadurai says it’s all about the grassroots, a lesson she says she learned from running in the last federal election.

“That experience was a really great demonstration of what happens when the grassroots seeks to engage with systems of power. Something really powerful happens, because those of us who are experiencing the issues on the ground have a really clear voice,” she said.