Friday, December 03, 2010

NDP infighting sinking party’s 2013 chances

The New Democrats should all be ashamed of themselves.
The NDP is waging a stupid, incompetent internal war that demonstrates the party is unfit to govern. It's self-destructing when the polls show the party would likely win an election. And there's a pathetic Grade 6 schoolyard bickering feeling to the whole thing.
Broadly, here's the plot. Some MLAs think Carole James should be dumped as leader.
James faced the issue head on at a meeting of the party's provincial council last month. That's about 130 people, including a representative from each riding and various officials. MLAs can't vote, but they do attend.
James won the support of 84 per cent of the council.
But in a dumb move, her supporters handed out yellow scarves for people to wear to show support for James.
Thirteen MLAs didn't take them and were identified publicly as dissidents. They said they felt bullied.
If the ploy was dumb, so was the MLAs' decision not to take the scarves. This isn't grade school. Wear the scarf and sort out the issues later.
The anti-James campaign continued quietly. This week, MLA Jenny Kwan called for a leadership convention to replace James.
Kwan said the party had become less democratic. Decision-making was centralized and MLAs didn't have a voice. James changed party positions and MLAs had to read about in the newspaper. She won't take stands on tough issues or set out a vision.
And Kwan noted MLAs weren't told that party president Moe Sihota - an elected, traditionally volunteer position - was being paid $75,600 a year. Or that the money, donated specifically to pay Sihota, had come from the Steelworkers and CUPE, with a small amount from the B.C. Federation of Labour. (Credit for uncovering all this goes to Sean Holman at
That too was dumb, as it raised the appearance the two unions were buying influence. Otherwise, why not donate to the party and let it decide on pay for the president?
James said she wouldn't quit. She's setting up a meeting of MLAs and about 10 members of the party's executive, including Sihota, to thrash out the issues on Sunday.
It's a colossal mess and no one involved looks good. The dissident MLAs are ignoring the party constitution, which calls for a vote on James's leadership next year, the provincial council vote of support and the destruction of the NDP's chances in the next election.
But James and company have failed to deal with problems until they reached a crisis point and created needless confrontations.
The critics also argue the New Democrats - and James - should be doing better in the polls. The most recent poll, by the Mustel Group, found the NDP with 42 per cent support, to the Liberals' 37 per cent. James had a minus 12 approval rating; Campbell had a minus 28.
If James can keep the party at 42 per cent, she would do better than Dave Barrett, Mike Harcourt or Glen Clark - all elected as NDP premiers with a smaller of the vote.
MLAs should demand a real role in making decisions. The concentration of power in the leader's office has made for bad policy and democratic rot.
But any party that could destroy itself like this can't expect public support. Who would elect an unstable party to government?
There are only a few options. James could bounce the dissidents and claim control of a smaller caucus at the meeting in the next few days.
She could quit and the NDP could plunge into a divisive, destructive leadership race, with or without her as a candidate
Or everyone can climb down a bit. Sihota could step down; James could promise caucus a bigger role; the rational dissidents could pledge to work for the good of the party; the less rational could leave.
Only the last option gives the party a chance in the 2013 election.
Footnote: The chances of successful resolution aren't great. The internal battle has pitted MLAs against each other and growing numbers of ex-politicians like Corky Evans - against James - and Paul Ramsey - for her - have joined the fray.

Saturday morning update

The Globe quotes some dissident MLAs saying they might not attend the caucus meeting, but if they do they don't want to discuss the issues - just to deliver their ultimatum that James should quit. (Though an ultimatum seems to require an "or this will happen" that's missing in this case.)
Refusal to discuss an issue usually signals fear that the person can't come up with a reasonable argument, but perhaps something else is at play.
It all makes the Liberal leadership race more significant, as their chances of re-election rise sharply. At some point, potential New Democrats will have to decide whether it's more useful to take out a Liberal membership and influence the leadership selection process.


Anonymous said...

If the NDP wants to destroy itself in order to take down Carole James, so be it. The question remains: who takes over?

The people with intellectual heft and political know-how (Farnsworth, Ralston, Fleming, Dix, Horgan and perhaps Black) all seem to support Carole. Any chance the baker's dozen will support one of them if James is gone seems doubtful.

Jenny is an intellectual lightweight, who would be in tough to get elected in any other riding in the province. Krog has a nasty habit of shooting himself and the party in the foot. The other eleven, well, that's a nasty combo of anger management issues, blind luck, cluelessness and bitterness, and a liberal trojan horse.

Corky Evans is a great orator and good in opposition - but clueless in government. Bob Williams- well let's just get in our time machines and enjoy the journey. While both are electable in a narrow constituency, they have no chance in capturing enough votes to capture the province.

So the question remains: unless the NDP can convince Joy to step back into the vipers nest, who else can lead a centre left party to victory?

Anonymous said...

Paul, caucus members have been asked to contribute. At a retreat more than a month ago, a long process was set up to provide members with assistance to bring policy resolutions and ideas to caucus for a full discussion.

Ideas that met the test were to proceed to the platform development table.

You could ask the thirteen what they brought to the table.

DPL said...

The two writers above have some nasty things to say, but can't manage to identify themselves as anything but Anon. Who are they speaking for? Not me for sure

RossK said...


Not sure who the Anons-Above speak for exactly.

But it is good background.

And I must admit that, as an outsider who is speaking only for himself, I kind of came to same conclusion, at least tentatively, as Anon-At-The-Top.


Anonymous said...

1:07 PM Anonymous asked: "So the question remains: unless the NDP can convince Joy to step back into the vipers nest, who else can lead a centre left party to victory?"

George Heyman

Anonymous said...

NDP + foot + ... = ‽

Shooting themselves in the foot seems to be the NDP's modus operandi of late.

James Keller reports: At issue is a 60 second radio ad from Ida Chong, the Victoria-area cabinet minister who is facing a petition to recall her from office over the controversial harmonized sales tax.

The ad alleges the New Democrats are "heavily involved" in the recall effort, and says recently leaked documents reveal party president Moe Sihota's "secret plans" for the recall campaigns.

The [NDP] party's lawyer sent letters to the Liberal party and to radio station CFAX claiming the ads are "false and defamatory" and demanding they be pulled. The letter to CFAX also warns of "significant damages in the courts."

This isn't going to end well for the NDP.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping that the meeting on Sunday could have happened a week earlier with a couple of "neutral" power brokers --before criticism were made explicit in public. That chance is now gone.

And so is Carole, unfortunately.

There really is no way out. Yes, it's possible that lingering disagreements between the two factions would continue after she stepped aside and both sides tried to select a new leader. But the problem now is that all the negative stuff said about Carole is out there --to be used by the BC Liberals. She won't ever be able to overcome that. Ever. It's an extremely difficult PR exercise to overcome, expecially when you didn't have stellar personal approval ratings to begin with.

I suspect she would find that, putting aside the practical or principled reasons for each MLA to remain loyal, she does not have the support of a majority of caucus.

Ultimately, the buck stops with Carole. She has to take responsibility for nearly 40% of her colleagues expressing no confidence in her leadership. You can gripe about it now. You can draw a line in the sand. You can urge unity. But once you've got to that point it's all too late. She failed in keeping the coalition together, just as she has failed in unifiying ideas and concepts into a solid platform/reason to vote for the BCNDP.

The next challenge is a face-saving exit without taking the party down with her. But it has to happen quickly. If this gong show continues, the BC Liberals will captialize with a commitment to scrap the HST and a snap election next spring. And then she'll be gone anyway.

NGDale said...

What Willcocks leaves out of his inference that a party in such public disarray can't expect to win support in a future election, is that the opposition to James is acting far enough in advance that matters can be well settled by 2013. They are not stupid enough to wait until a few months before that next election nor to fool themselves into thinking that the 5% point lead over the Liberals will survive when a shiny new Lib Premier is selected. Willcocks'premises, "If James can keep the party at 42%..." Yes, and if pigs could only fly. Such static thinking and confusion is what James would like us to swallow: don't!

seth said...

The MSM has talking points drilled into all the Canwest/Gordo PAB owned and run journalists - Mason, Baldry, Palmer, Good etc. Now it appears Willcocks has sold out.

All talking points revolve around palace coups and radicals wanting to take the party back to its Marxist/Leninist roots. Basically Willcock's new homey's at the Canwest/Gordo team want to run against Carole James - now is the time to extoll her virtues.

The grass roots opposition has absolutely nothing to do with ideology - its all related to media image, debating skills, speaking ability, intelligence, and leadership. Carole James is bereft of all these qualities.

In fact the opposition to Carole James is 100% because she can never win election. She is so repugnant to the voter that the BCLiberals could run the village dogcatcher against her and win. For that reason PAB propagandist's are under orders to support James.

The NDP has a house guest that just won't leave. NDP's rank and file have less and less politely many times pointed out she should leave - no response. Finally they have had to call the cops and give her the old heave ho.

A year before the 2005 election the NDP was at 45% in the polls and Canwest/Gordo was at 33%. James blew that one.

Late in the fall of 2008 the NDP was at 44% and the Canwest team at 38. By mid Jan that was done to 47 Gordo to 33 NDP and by mid February 53 to 36. Yup James blew that one as well.

The current few percent in lead in polling could disappear over a weekend.

The tumor must be excised before the body can heal!!!!

RossK said...


Have to admit that (despite the derision) NGDale above has a point worth considering.

Has that point been clearly articulated by the dissidents themselves?

And, purely as a tangent, couldn't help but noticing that, for the first time that I can recall, I do believe that Mr. Willcocks slipped a little snarkolepsy into the last sentence of his Saturday morning update....Wow.


paul said...

Yikes. Trying for a snark-free zone.
Reading the comments on various sites, I wonder about the viability of the NDP as a political party with a credible chance of forming government. Seth sees widespread grassroots opposition to James, which might be true. But the provincial council, with elected reps from every riding association, voted 84 per cent against a leadership convention.
A lot of the comments show contempt for others within the party. Relationships, including political ones, can survive anger and disagreements, but contempt seems to linger.
The party has had three wins - when David Anderson and the Liberals split the vote with the Socreds in 1972, when Gordon Wilson and the Liberals split the vote with the Socreds in 1991 and in 1996, when Wilson and Weisgerber split the vote with the Liberals.
There is a kind of Reform-party mindset that sees electoral defeats as a badge of honour or an indication that the public doesn't get it or the result of the leaders' inadequacies (or a media conspiracy). No matter which option you choose as the explanation, continuing to make the same choices is unlikely to change the outcome.
But I don't claim any real knowledge of this kind of politics.

Anonymous said...

Paul, your blatant pro Carole James bias on your site has been obvious to many for years. You can try and ignore what Jenny Kwan, Katrine Conroy, Bob Simpson and others have said but they all speak the truth, even if pro Carole James supporters like you fail to admit it. She cannot continue and will only drag the party down. She has failed as an opposition leader. Case closed.

DPL said...

Might get interesting Sunday at the hotel. The council has never raised their voice against the leader of the day. James has gone against long established party positions before.

Dawn Steele said...

Paul said: "The NDP is waging a stupid, incompetent internal war that demonstrates the party is unfit to govern."

Pretty much sums up my thoughts, Paul. My opinion of the NDP right now is about on par with my opinion of the Liberals.

While I expect the dissidents have some legitimate complaints, it's hard to understand how they think the histrionics are going to do anything but help elect another Gordon Campbell as the next Premier.

if they can't see that the course they've chosen has more serious consequences than sucking it up and donning a yellow scarf until they can find a better way to resolve their beefs, they're clearly not ready for prime time.

And if Vision is indeed looking for an opening to replace the NDP as the other main BC party, as some have speculated, Kwan & co have just handed it to them on a silver platter.

Tony Martinson said...

Paul, if the Globe article is accurate, that the 13 expect to walk in, drop a "get out or we're leaving" letter on the door and leave, then they have no credibility.

I love the types like your anonymous 2:52 contributor, who keep trying to argue that the one person who bears responsibility for this is Carole James. I would give a lot more respect to those 13 if they would at least acknowledge the chaos that has ensued over these weekly events, (which, Paul, seem strikingly well timed for maximum impact).

Instead, they play the victim, and complain that they were "bullied" by a piece of yellow cloth, apparently. Harry Lali was near tears talking about how he was "outed" as someone who disagreed with the leadership. It's to weep.

As your 7:37 contributor noted, Carole bears responsibility for the state of disarray in the caucus - and it will probably cost her leadership - but only to a point. Bob Simpson, for his continued attacks, Katrine Conroy, for stepping all over the Dave Barrett tribute (a travesty, in my books, to not allow the man his tribute on that day), Lana Popham, for her lil-ol-me Facebook updates, and Jenny Kwan for this dirty-laundry-airing broadside.

I don`t see this ending well. From a political standpoint, it`s unforgiveable that these 13 have set in motion an initiative with so few potential positive outcomes.

Norm Farrell said...

How foolish it is to suppose that attacking the leader now makes sense because the election is not scheduled until 2013. That can be changed as easily as was the law that prohibited deficits. The new Liberal leader, coming off fresh victory with all his coalition members standing shoulder to shoulder can rather quickly decide and announce, "I need a mandate to govern as Premier. Therefore we're calling the legislature for a throne speech, a budget, an act for a chicken in every pot, and a change to the law allowing for an election in 2011.

wstander said...

If you stuffed all the NDP caucus into a barrel, the Kwan led 13 would compromise almost all of the bottom of that barrel.

Send them on their way, and good riddance.

DPL said...

Lets place the blame, not on the MLA's wanting credibility from James and her inner circle, but directly on James her self. The concerned MLA's went to her in private, she made it public. She cooked the deal to hire Moe, because on her own she can't manage much of anything. If the party is in free fall, point your fingers directly at her, not the other MLA's, duly elected just like she was, to represent folks in their riding. Trudeau took a walk in the snow, and left, Gordo( very stubborn know it all) got the picture and he is leaving, so what can't Ms.Dithers understand about stepping down.

She is dragging the party down by being stubborn and history will show her as a bit of a idiot, stubborn but still an idiot that set back the party a number of years. Many of the folks being ridiculed here and elsewhere joined up when the party was down to two, Jenny and Joy, they too build the party and are now thought of as turncoats. As a long time NDP supporter of more than forty years I always believed the MLA's were entitled to argue in private and reach some conclusions But clearly not in a group run by Carole James.But she sees today as a good day for group hangings.If she goes that route, a new party on the left will be the results of her stupid actions

Frank said...

Joy? Joy backs Carole James.

DPL said...

Ms.Dithers strikes again. No meeting but some private ones will happen, the sort of thing the 13 MLA's asked for before James went public. So much for the line in the sand