BC NDP leader Carole has made a serious error in judgement - deciding to throw Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson out of the NDP caucus, allegedly over mildly critical comments he made on a Williams Lake website about her recent speech to the Union of BC Municipalities.
UPDATE - Statement from Bob Simpson at end of posting.
The sudden development exposes a significant difference of opinion within both the NDP caucus and the party membership over the direction of the party under James' leadership, which could be reviewed at the November 2011 party convention.
Simpson, first elected in 2005 and again in 2009, will now sit as an independent member.
The move is a significant mistake in my view and will bring make James' leadership a central issue of debate in public as a result.
Simpson's alleged infraction was to publicly point out the obvious - that James speech to the UBCM was lacking in ideas and substance.
In his online column Simpson first criticized Premier Gordon Campbell's remarks to the UBCM and then said of James's own speech that it: "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. 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."
These two lines, apparently, crossed the line with James.
A more sensible approach would have been to either ignore Simpson's remarks altogether or to suspend him from critic duties while maintaining his caucus membership.
It's not the first time an NDP MLA has been thrown out of caucus - James did the same thing with Michael Sather when he voted against the Tsawwassen First Nation treaty solely over its removal of significant fertile farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve - the ALR created by Dave Barrett's first NDP government and upheld ever since.
That was another mistake in my view and I defended Sather's position at that time.
But Simpson's expulsion must be put into a larger context.
I have pointed out in a recent column in 24 hours/The Tyee and this blog, the BC NDP's continual failed courtship of the BC business community - most recently seen in a $295 a plate fundraising event aimed at business last month - is alienating an already flagging membership.
As Public Eye Online's Sean Holman first reported - and where you can find an audio interview with Simpson and much more on this story - Simpson's own riding executive are calling for the November 2011 NDP convention to become a leadership contest.
Their motion is to be debated at a Cariboo North NDP riding association meeting scheduled for November 5 - ironically now - at Simpson's own house.
As for the BC NDP - it has for now become a house divided.
UPDATE: MLA Bob Simpson has now responded to his expulsion from the NDP caucus by Carole James. This is his statement, just received by email:
MLA Bob Simpson's statement:
It is unfortunate I have been removed by the Leader from Caucus supposedly for a mere two sentences in my regular weekly Column.
I hope all of you will read that column carefully before you judge me too harshly (although, I realize it might be too late for some).
Since my nomination in 2004, I have been a harsh critic of a political system that forces us into perpetual negative partisan politics and constant electioneering.
Politics should be about governance with an election every four years that is fought on competing visions, not negative ads and sound bites.
I've made those views plain in many Caucus meetings, speeches, and columns. I believe the electorate has made it plain that they too want something different, as we see fewer and fewer people show up to vote each election.
Time is running short for us to address the major and complex issues which confront us and this small planet we live on.
We need to spend much more energy finding ways to address these issues than we do simply finding ways to bring down the sitting government in order to gain power by default and without a mandate for change.
My column was in that vein. It was critical of a political system that does not address the real needs of people and communities -- in this particular instance the failure of senior political leaders from all parties to address the needs of local governments.
I was asked to retract my two sentences and offer a public apology -- I declined as I don't believe my assessment of what happened at UBCM is either inaccurate or misleading.
I understood some form of discipline may come a result of my honest appraisal. I was shocked it was immediate dismissal.
I find it troubling there was no process before I was convicted and removed from Caucus by the Leader.
I guess I was mistaken in my belief that the NDP was a progressive organization which valued free speech and honest critique as a means to create a better society for everyone.
To be immediately dismissed because of a soft critique of one speech seems a little harsh. More disturbing though was the decision to allow a Caucus meeting to take place in my absence where some MLAs were given full scope to attack my integrity and make spurious claims about my work ethic and my intelligence (among other things).
Again, what happened to our social justice principles; particularly the right to a fair hearing and to be able to face our accusers?
I'm sure you will have also heard that my Constituency Executive has unanimously passed two motions which they will be taking to the general membership of Cariboo North. One of these motions calls for a Leadership Convention next year.
I had given members of the Caucus Executive and Chief of Staff notice that this was taking place and I was the one who asked my Riding Executive to get the endorsement of the full membership for these motions before sending them forward as formal resolutions because they send a strong message about our Riding Executive's discontent with the current direction of the Party and I believed they should not be put forward without the free and informed consent of the rest of Cariboo North NDP's membership.
Finally, I had planned on attending the Caucus Retreat next week and had submitted my policy suggestions for discussion. At that Retreat I had arranged to have a face to face meeting with the Leader to speak directly about the deeper concerns I have about the current state of our Party, her leadership and the leadership of our Party President.
None of these very serious and more deeply troubling concerns which I have shared with members of Caucus Executive, the Chief of Staff and the Party President, were made public in my column this week.
Take care and I look forward to the possibility of working with you all sometime in the future.
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