Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NDP gives the Liberals something to smile about

I should be writing about the faulty breathalyzers that have been used to impose penalties on hundreds of thousands of British Columbians.
Or Children’s Minister Mary Polak’s bizarre claim that a 15-year-old girl with Down syndrome, found emaciated and raw with diaper rash after spending nine days alone with her mother’s corpse, might not have suffered any harm.
Or a lot of other issues that matter to people right now.
Instead, one more column about politics, thanks to the strange goings-on in the NDP.
That’s an indication the party has got lost. The Liberals are leaderless and wedded to unpopular policies. New Democrats should be focusing attention on problem areas and showing they could do a better job.
Instead, some sort of weird, secret internal rebellion is gripping the party, at the worst possible time.
And it’s being badly mishandled.
NDP leader Carole James faced a leadership test on the weekend when the party’s governing council met in Victoria. A few NDP riding associations had called for a leadership contest next year.
Some New Democrat MLAs were unhappy as well. Last Friday, caucus whip Katrine Conroy gave up that position, apparently in protest. She was supported by MLAs Jenny Kwan, Lana Popham and Claire Trevena.
But none would say what they were actually unhappy about.
Partly, it was about James’s decision to kick Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson out of the caucus after he offered mild criticism of a speech she made. Or, in some cases, about the arbitrary way the decision was made.
That was a blunder. Simpson’s comments were mild. Leaders have lots of ways to communicate displeasure. And it was wrong and foolish for James to leave MLAs - especially one like Conroy, as whip, and Norm Macdonald as caucus chair – out of the decision.
But you have to think the dissatisfaction runs deeper. One bad call about a difficult member of caucus shouldn’t be such a grand offence.
James took on the dissatisfaction head-on. On Friday, the day before the meeting, she said she was “drawing a line in the sand.” Support her leadership and work together, or not. Get in or get out.
It worked with the council. The call for a leadership contest failed, with about 84 per cent voting to keep James.
But in a dumb move, someone in the James camp decided to put pressure on dissidents by handing out yellow scarves and buttons to signal support for her.
The result was that about a dozen MLAs were immediately identified as refusing to support James’s leadership - hardly a great result.
Why don’t they support James? The MLAs won’t say.
They could argue that such discussions should remain behind closed doors, except their discontent is highly public. (And if one-third of the caucus has doubts about a potential future premier, perhaps discussion of their views is in the public interest.)
From outside, James looks to have a good record. From two seats to 35, a significant lead in the polls and no big negatives. Her approval rating - 33 per cent - is lousy, but that might say more about the way we see politicians than her performance. Certainly it wasn’t helped by the Simpson affair and revelations that a handful of big unions have been chipping in to pay Moe Sihota a salary as party. The money isn’t a general donation to the party; it’s to pay Sihota. “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” the saying goes, which leaves the party playing second fiddle.
But you would hardly think those enough to persuade New Democrat MLAs to attack their own party when the chance of forming the next government looks so good.
MLAs have a balancing act - their own judgment, their commitment to constituents who voted for both a party and a candidate and to a shared vision.
The New Democrats attacking James should be candid about their concerns.
Footnote: Meanwhile. Moira Stilwell became the first Liberal leadership candidate. She stepped down as minister of regional economic and skills development. Stilwell’s a doctor who specializes in nuclear medicine and a political rooke elected last year. That’s likely a plus, given public antipathy to Gordon Campbell and those around him.


Norm Farrell said...

"They could argue that such discussions should remain behind closed doors, except their discontent is highly public."

Paul identifies the nexus and, in one sentence, demonstrates his skill with words and analysis.

Anonymous said...

You're right, Paul. It's a target rich environment as they say, just as there have been many, many times in the past. Nothing ever seems to have legs. You either conclude Mr. Brown and PAB have run a masterwork of counterspin over the past ten years or the BCNDP just doesn't have the skill set to find or develop a lever to get folks interested about anything.

Just look at Vanderzalm and what a charismatic leader running on a single issue can achieve.

Compare that to "Everyone matters". Wow. I'll go banging on doors to shill that concept. And in fact I did, not because of Carole, but because I believed in the local candidate. But we were continually challenged for specifics that the platform did not really provide. Pretty disheartening.

The weird thing with Carole is that when you meet her in person she is actually very charismatic. I've met her a few times and was impressed by how likeable and genuine she is one-on-one. Get her on a podium or in front of a camera, however, and she turns into this automaton. I think we saw a little bit of that real person during the "line in the sand" media scrum. David Schreck thinks if there's a silver lining for her in this party division maybe it's that she'll get tougher. I think it might help the real Carole to get a little more confidence to riff off of the talking points and scripts.

In the meantime, they should all be working on that simple and compelling reason to vote for the BCNDP --and quietly working on bringing some of their own folks back into the fold. Bring in a neutral power broker or two to mend fences. There's lots of ways to say sorry and still save face. After all, everyone matters :)

seth said...

Carole cannot win election. Its that simple.

Here's her bio

She has a high school education, was a school trustee, in child care and family services for a Tribal Council. Held the position of V/P Canadian School Boards Association.

With that resume she couldn't get a job as a manager at a dollar store. Get it!!

The voter can't stand her but she has this giant ego so common to stupid people. She just will not resign.

The infighting is to get her removed for cause.

Anonymous said...

Seth, it is sad to realize that there are still people out there who believe a piece of paper with some letters on it makes a person smart. That is stupid.

Mike Gix said...

I think Carole James should try to bring her MLA's back into the fold, beginning with Bob Simpson. She should invite him back without conditions. Summarily expelling him was a mistake, and she should own-up to that mistake. This would show that dissenting views, even about leadership, are still allowed within the BCNDP.

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