BC NDP leader Carole James delivered what can only be described as a disappointing speech at the party's convention this morning, long on rhetoric but lacking in new ideas or a strong explanation and defence of how her centrist approach can win the next election.
James delivered the speech adquately to a generally enthusiastic audience of party delegates but content-wise it was lacking details or strategy, instead relying on attacks on the BC Liberals recent performance - a target-rich environment - and predictable calls for a minimum wage increase, ending child poverty, better health care and education, support for the arts, etc.
Missing from the speech was any reference to climate change - even with the Copenhagen summit coming shortly - or the word "union" - despite the presence of dozens of union leaders and activists.
And the core of James' message was deep the speech - page 7 of 8 in the printed version, where she made it clear that the appeals to BC business - which have so far fallen on deaf ears - will continue.
She also signalled that after avoiding talking about the economy - the number one issue for voters - in the last election, now she will do just that.
My friend Sean Holman of Public Eye Online has an excellent clip of James' post-speech media scrum where the word "economy" is mentioned at least half a dozen times.
Here's what James said in her speech to delegates:
"I also want to hear from British Columbians about other changes needed to make our economy grow. Changes that are consistent with our values of environmental integrity," James told the crowd.
"In the coming months, I'll be engaging you and a broad range of British Columbians from all walks of life, and experts in their field - including concerned business leaders - on how we tackle the big challenges that face us and move beyond the conflicts that hold us back."
"How we combine a forward-looking business climate with a more equitable society. This kind of openness will make our journey to a sustainable, new modern economy that much faster."
"It's not my conviction that British Columbians won't disagree at times. But in the name of economic progress, we must build on our common ground."
"In the name of social justice we must do our duty," James said in ending that section of the speech. [I have added the bold emphasis above.]
Let me disagree with Carole James, as I have done before, not with rancour or mean-spiritedness but from a different perspective.
And I do so as the owner of a small business for 12 years as well as a former communications director in the office of former Premier Glen Clark, a former NDP executive member and still a supporter in general of the NDP - while often a critical one.
There are arguments in favour of a centrist strategy - but today's speech did not make them to the audience that needs to be behind the leader's approach.
And Carole James has been reaching out to business for the past four years or more - without any sign of success.
If anything, business organizations solidified their opposition to the NDP in the last election, spending heavily to ensure they do not have to cooperate or deal with a Premier James in power.
This is not to say - as some have assumed - that the NDP should have nothing to do with business, run up the red flag and plan for worker soviets come the next election.
I am decidedly not anti-business either - I have worked with many businesses over the 12 years of communications and strategy consulting and have business clients to this day.
I believe business will work cooperatively with an NDP government on some issues - as it did with Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark - and oppose it strenuously on others.
None of this is rocket science - but expecting a Kum Bay Ya experience with the province's hard-nosed business organizations is simply unrealistic.
Some individual businesses might even welcome an NDP government willing to listen to their concerns - which have been ignored or minimized by Premier Gordon Campbell.
But on some key issues of importance to the NDP, many businesses will by and large attempt to block, fight, protest and object to them, period.
As if to illustrate that point, in today's Vancouver Sun a letter to the editor from Philip Hochstein, head of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, attacks BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair's call for more government spending.
Hochstein instead argues for smaller government and lower taxes, saying that even the BC Liberal government has spent more than necessary on public services.
Hochstein's ICBA spent $600,000 in pre-election and election period radio ads absolutely lambasting the NDP.
And while the ICBA is perhaps the most hawkish of anti-NDP business organizations, the BC Business Council also ran ads attacking the NDP and supporting the BC Liberals.
Still, the NDP's leadership now has two years to convince the party that the path of moderation and the olive branch to business will lead to success.
Former cabinet minister Moe Sihota should easily become the party's new president at a vote Sunday morning, as he heads a so-called "unity" slate.
Like James, Sihota favours courting the business community as part of a centrist strategy to win election.
"I don't think leadership is the issue with the NDP. I think market share is the issue," Sihota told Province columnist Mike Smyth.
"For the NDP to be successful, it needs to have stronger relations with all sectors of the business community," he said. "We need to get past the imagery of the party that has been created in a very polarized province."
Whether this approach will succeed is at best unclear - but given that even James is supporting a resolution to be passed Sunday that would put her own leadership to a test by party delegates at their next convention in 2 years - what is clear is that James is staking all on the centrist strategy.
Two years from now, a new BC Liberal leader and premier will likely be in office, the economic and political context will be different and delegates to the NDP convention will have to decide what to do.
For this convention, a ceasefire on strategy and leadership are the order of the day.
CONVENTION FOOTNOTE 1: Although the BC NDP are featuring a speech by Barack Obama campaign social media expert Rahaf Harfoush tonight, the party's website has not even been updated to include a full agenda for the weekend's schedule.
As of 2 p.m. today, only a draft agenda was online - without times for speakers, including leader Carole James - or details of the day's events.
CONVENTION FOOTNOTE 2: The funniest button of the convention - supplied by Melva Forsberg of Babylon Buttons - reads: "Mo' business....less votes".