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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More good than harm in WikiLeaks haul

The release of thousands of secret documents that reveal what governments are really saying about each other undoubtedly poses risks.
But if Canada's top spy is telling the Americans that he's worried Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a weak leader and corrupt - while our politicians are telling us things are going well - then I want to know.
WikiLeaks, a website and organization set up to share information that governments, agencies and corporations want to keep secret, is releasing about 250,000 cables from U.S. diplomats around the world back to Washington.
Lives will be put at risk, the politicians warn.
And international relations will be profoundly damaged if diplomats, politicians and businesspeople can't sit down to exchange views confident that no outsiders will ever know what they said. Let the shine in, and all will be lost, say critics of the document release.
There is a price to be paid. Some information exchange might be reduced; some decisions less well-informed.
But the basic premise of those criticizing WikiLeaks is the public can be kept in the dark - or told lies - while the real facts are kept within the elite, for the greater good.
That seems dangerous, at least as dangerous as too much openness.
Consider the WikiLeaks documents outlining U.S. diplomats' reports to Washington based on 2008 discussions with Jim Rudd, then the head of CSIS and Canada's top spy.
That was a difficult year for the war in Afghanistan. Lives were being lost and money spent, but little was being accomplished. But the government was keen to press on with the mission even as the public had doubts.
Judd's comments to U.S. diplomats in Ottawa would have been a useful addition to the discussion about whether we should keep spending lives and treasure in Afghanistan.
Rudd was not encouraged by progress in Afghanistan, the diplomats reported to their masters in Washington. CSIS identified many problems - President Hamid Karzai's "weak leadership, widespread corruption, the lack of will to press ahead on counter-narcotics, limited Afghan security force capability (particularly the police) and, most recently, the Sarpoza prison break."
(Canada had spent $1 million to improve the prison and Corrections Canada had trained the guards. But in June 2008,Taliban fighters moved into Kandahar, attacked the prison and freed about 1,000 inmates. It was a show of defiance.)
There were some official statements about how difficult things were in Afghanistan in 2008. But there was more cheerleading. The top NATO commander said the Taliban was on the run. Brought to their knees, said a British commander.
But privately, Rudd was sharing a bleak assessment with the U.S. and, presumably, the Canadian government.
None of this is clearcut. If Rudd and others share information with diplomats, perhaps better solutions will be reached.
It can be argued that the head of Canada's spy service shouldn't be making his views public, pushing aside elected representatives.
But should U.S. government representatives get the real story, while Canadians are kept in the dark?
I'm glad to learn that the CSIS head told U.S. contacts that images of Omar Khadr's interrogation would trigger "knee-jerk anti-Americanism" and "paroxysms of moral outrage, a Canadian specialty."
And that he told the Americans that court decisions had "tied CSIS in knots" and cost it public support. Canadian authorities can't even use evidence if it could have been obtained through torture, he complained.
It seems that these things - torture, handcuffed spies, a stalled war, our role in Afghanistan - should be subject to a real public discussion.
But the only honest conversation was between American envoys and Canadian spies. We were on the outside.
And we only know about the real story because of WikiLeaks.
Those on the inside generally like secrecy.
It's harder to see why the rest of us should indulge their desire to have two sets of facts - one for them, and one for the rest of us.
Footnote: The man behind WikiLeaks is Julian Assange, an Australian citizen and former computer hacker. He's keeping a low profile; various governments are discussing espionage or other charges (he faces sexual assault allegations in Sweden) and Sarah Palin has apparently suggested that the U.S. should assassinate him.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Another question for Elections BC

This is troubling.
Elections BC refused to approve the recall petition in Ida Chong's riding based on rules it created after the petition was submitted. It appears incompetent to have failed to have the rules in place, as the Times Colonist noted in an editorial here.
The legislation sets a 200-word limit on the petition. Elections BC ruled MLA counts as five words; HST as three. So the petition was over the limit under the new rules.
An Elections BC official defended the retroactive decision to create the rules.
"The methodology used for word counts had never been an issue in the past because all previous recall applications had come in at well below 200 words," she said.
It's not a compelling defence.
Worse, it's also untrue, as The Gazetteer, establishes here. There haven't been that many recall campaigns; voters should expect better from Elections BC than false statements to defend its decisions.