Friday, October 08, 2010

NDP’s expulsion of MLA bad deal for voters

Politically, it might make sense to kick MLA Bob Simpson out of the New Democrat caucus.
But it’s another step away from a functioning democratic system that voters can respect.
NDP leader Carole James gave Simpson the boot this week. His immediate offence was some mild observations about the lack of specifics in her speech to the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
The Cariboo North MLA had also been raising questions internally about the party’s direction, lack of clear policies and failure to grab more voter support as the Liberals stumbled.
Simpson didn’t want to be part of the team, James said, as she showed him the door.
Parties need common policies and some internal discipline. Voters are reluctant to support a party that might lurch off in uncharted directions or implode in internal bickering.
But the current fashion calls for much more than that.
MLAs and MPs often seem to have lost the ability to form independent thoughts, ordered to recite the talking points handed out by the leader’s office or say nothing at all.
The people paid to manage such things believe that is the best way to win power. The messages are tightly scripted so politicians don’t say anything that the other side could attack. (And they don’t consider MLAs and MPs quite bright enough to use their own judgment.)
It might be the best way to win power. Just as it might be astute to avoid any serious talk about policies and spend a lot of time bashing the other side.
But while the parties are fighting perpetual campaigns aimed at victory in the next election, they’re losing a more important battle to rebuild public trust in a battered political system.
Simpson was kicked out of the caucus after his brief report on the UBCM convention speeches by provincial and federal politicians appeared on a couple of websites.
He was sharply critical of speeches by Stockwell Day and Premier Gordon Campbell and offered some praise for a speech by B.C. Green party leader Jane Sterk..
And he was not dazzled by James’s’ speech. "The leader of the opposition likewise had little concrete to offer the delegates other than a commitment to be more consultative than the current government and a promise to explore the possibility of revenue sharing with local governments," he wrote. "This is a timely concept which has the potential to address the resource needs of local governments, but the lack of specifics was a disappointment to delegates."
The municipal politicians had real problems grappling with the services they need to provide and the available revenue sources, but didn’t hear anything meaningful from federal and provincial politicians.
"They were simply politicking for the press, not serving the real and immediate needs of UBCM delegates and their constituents," Simpson wrote.
You could expect James would be displeased, even if the comments are accurate. Simpson acknowledged he anticipated a lecture.
Instead, he was given a chance to apologize, declined and was then then kicked out of the caucus. He will sit as an independent.
Simpson’s comments don’t seem that far out of line.
In fact, while that kind of candor might irritate the leader’s office and party brass, it’s useful.
Problems don’t get solved when people are prevented from talking about them. And the best decisions come from a free, informed discussion by all involved.
Maybe those discussions can take place behind closed doors. But there is little evidence they do.
And in any case, it’s also important that citizens see they are taking place. Elected officials are supposed to represent their constituents and raise their concerns - even if the party doesn’t like it.
Instead, the public perception is that they almost always do what they are told. The orders of the leader’s office come before the duty to represent their constituents.
Maybe that’s the way to win elections. But it’s also a sure way to convince voters the system is broken — and that they’re the losers.
Footnote: The issue was a relief to the Liberals, glad the attention was off the HST. It exposed some rifts in the NDP over James’s leadership, but they will likely be short-lived. For all the grumbling, the party’s poll standings have been the best in years. It hardly seems time to get into a leadership debate.


Anonymous said...

Maybe the Party Of Citizens Who Have Decided To Think For Themselves And Be Their Own Politicians (yes, it was a real party in BC)can sign up Lekstrom, Simpson, and Huntington + 1 more, and become a caucus (complete with benefits and pay raises).

DPL said...

By trying to show just how tough and big a boss she is, she diverted some of the heat off the Liberal train crash, and upset a lot of NDP supporters The NDP under James may be a government in waitngbut the waiting just got longer. I figure she is quite satisfied to stay as opposition leader till the old pension cuts in.Crazy way to run things. So Gordo must be giggling to see her latest move. If the NDP really want to be government, they must do something about her mood swings, and the convention is the time. Not just some silly motion to tell the MLA's to work harder.

kootcoot said...

Excellent analysis of Carole's not surprising error in judgement. I would love to see her or Leonard, Mike or any of the other top dogs show such zealous concern and "leadership" in relation to the ongoing LIEberal assault on the interests of the citizenry.

Of course the MSM doesn't give the opposition (sic) much exposure and having an empty legislature 80% of the time doesn't help - but it seems as if only the most egregious affronts by Campbell and his gang rouse Adrian Dix to mention something for ONE DAY and the next day all is forgotten and apparently forgiven!

Anonymous said...

Paul, other commentators from the press gallery have acknowledged that Bob Simpson has been undermining the party and leader for months. Mr. Simpson has admitted in an article at The Tyee there has been a rift for 5 years. Other MLAs have described many debates within caucus which Bob Simpson participated in. To characterize Carole James' actions as an overwrought response to an innocently written commentary on the UBCM speech may support your thesis, but is a disservice to your reader.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and he wasn't kicked out of the legislature, just the NDP caucus. He remains an MLA free to speak his mind on behalf of his contituents whenever he wants. Democracy is not under threat.

Anonymous said...

The issue is that Bob Simpson didn't want to play as a member of a team but as someone who worked against the team regularly...he wasn't just hurting Carole James, but all his team mates (that are by the way sitting at 48% in the polls so it is dishonest to talk about the party stalling)...if he wanted to spend his time criticizing the NDP Caucus and the leader he should have resigned from the caucus to sit as an independent.