Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Can BC NDP leader Carole James win the next provincial election?

BC NDP leader Carole James speaks to media outside BC Supreme Court this summer

Whether BC votes next year or in 2013, the question looms large right now, with BC NDP provincial council meeting November 20-21

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee online column

Tuesday November 16, 2010

Bill Tieleman

"One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency."

- Arnold H. Glasgow

The battle over Carole James' leadership is not about the left versus the right within the New Democratic Party.

It's not about the old guard against the new.

The only question that is dividing New Democrats is simple -- can Carole James win the next provincial election?

With the announced resignation of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell on Nov. 3, the NDP has to
resolve that question -- and there isn't much time.

It's overwhelmingly likely that the new BC Liberal Party leader and premier will repeal the fixed election date of May 2013 and announce she or he needs a mandate from voters rather than to govern for two years without electoral approval.

The new premier will also probably say they also want a mandate to negotiate the elimination of the Harmonized Sales Tax with the federal Conservative government, since the odds of the Sept. 2011 referendum on the HST being moved up to early next year increase daily.

That means the NDP doesn't have until 2013 to sort out its problems -- it may have only until next May or June if the new BC Liberal leader forces a quick election, especially likely if they get a major rise in the polls from the massive media attention that always surrounds succession of a premier.

The challenge for the NDP's provincial council at its meeting this coming weekend is to overcome what appear to be political lose-lose alternatives.

The knocks on James

The knocks against James' ability to win are clear and, for many political observers, compelling.

James lost the 2005 and 2009 elections to Campbell. Her personal approval rating is just 25 per cent according to a Nov. 5 Angus Reid Public Opinion
poll -- putting her 22 per cent behind the NDP's own 47 per cent support.

And there seems no doubt the NDP's high standing in the polls is primarily due to the BC Liberal government's imposition of the Harmonized Sales Tax, as well as public outrage at the sudden guilty plea bargain of former BC Liberal ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk in the B.C. legislature raid political corruption case.

James personal approval rating is now just 25 per cent according to an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll released Nov. 5 -- putting her 22 per cent behind the NDP's own 47 per cent support.

"Carole James actually lost points in the approval category this month, and keeps a negative momentum score, despite battling the most unpopular premier in the country," the Angus Reid news release noted.

"The problem for Carole James is that there is a lot of soft support for the NDP. People are disenchanted with the BC Liberals so they are parking their vote with the NDP," Angus Reid Public Opinion vice president Mario Canseco told the Vancouver Sun in October when her approval rate was 27 per cent. "But they are not convinced that Carole James is the right person for the job."

James approval has dropped from the 33 per cent she had in Nov. 2009 and is back at the same 25 per cent support rating she had in Aug. 2008.

Lower than Bush's lowest

Her standing is better than Campbell's abysmal 12 per cent current approval rating but falls below former U.S. president George W. Bush's 28 per cent personal approval level at the end of his term, and just above former U.S. president Richard Nixon's 23 per cent during the Watergate crisis.

And there seems no doubt that the NDP's high standing in the polls is primarily due to the negative actions taken by the BC Liberal government -- imposition of the Harmonized Sales Tax primarily, as well as the surprise guilty plea bargain of former ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk in the B.C. legislature raid case and the budget deficit that turned out to be six times larger than Campbell stated before the 2009 election.

The NDP is also in financial dire straits, with membership rumoured to be dropping to 10,000 or less. Even party officials said in July that the membership was 13,500 -- roughly the same level as in Nov. 2003, when James was elected leader.

Party president Moe Sihota was quoted as saying in executive minutes leaked to the media that the NDP was surviving on bequests from deceased members.

"We can't rely on people passing away," said Sihota.

And a significant number of NDP MLAs as well as members are angry that James expelled Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson from the caucus Oct. 6 for mildly criticizing one of her speeches on a Williams Lake community website.

That includes Norm Macdonald, who resigned as caucus chair over the lack of consultation and the process involved in Simpson's personal expulsion by James.

These negatives have compelled at least five NDP riding associations to call for a full leadership convention in Nov. 2011 instead of current plans to merely hold a review vote on James' leadership.

Concern over James has also prompted former NDP cabinet ministers Corky Evans, Dale Lovick, Bob Williams and others to suggest publicly that she be replaced as leader.

Reasons to keep James

In any event, if there is no election before Nov. 2011 the NDP will hold a leadership review vote at its convention.

That means each delegate selection meeting in all 85 ridings will be dominated by the question of whether delegates vying to attend will go to vote for or against James continuing on as leader. For two to three months media will be filled with reports of the pitched battles in most constituencies.

Whether those calling for James to quit are successful or not, there is no question her leadership has been damaged.

But the arguments against changing the leader do also have salience within the NDP and beyond.

The New Democrats currently hold a commanding 21 per cent lead over the BC Liberals -- 47 per cent to 26 per cent, with the Green Party and BC Conservatives following with 10 per cent each.

Those results would give the NDP a massive landslide victory if they held up into the election.

And the
rise of the BC Conservatives -- who still have no leader chosen -- along with creation of the BC First Party by Fight HST lead organizer Chris Delaney, means that the right wing unity critical to the BC Liberals' election wins may be seriously split.

James also has the support of at least 12 of the BC NDP's 85 riding associations, based on media reports of positions they have taken.

Should the BC Liberals' new premier call a snap election while the NDP is still hotly debating James' abilities, leadership would become the central campaign issue to the NDP's serious disadvantage.

James' supporters correctly argue that her party leadership has never been challenged since she won it in 2003, although NDP constitutional provisions that required regular leadership reviews were removed and only reinstated last year.

And, at least privately, those who back James ask who could replace her and do a better job.

David Schreck, the former NDP MLA and advisor to NDP premiers Glen Clark and Ujjal Dosanjh sums up the argument simply:

"Some of NDP leader Carole James' opponents believe that Gordon Campbell's replacement will magically make the 25 point gap between the parties disappear so a snap election can be called and the BC Liberals can be rewarded with a new mandate a year or more ahead of the set May 14, 2013 election date," Schreck
wrote on his website.

"That's not the wishful thinking of the BC Liberal caucus; it's an argument advanced by a handful of New Democrats who want James to step down so she can be replaced with Lord knows who," he concludes.

Former NDP house leader Joy MacPhail also backs James and claims members are "thrilled" with her.

"Ordinary New Democrats are fine and happy and thrilled actually in many ways with Carole James' leadership," MacPhail told CKNW radio's Sean Leslie on Saturday. "So these people that are kvetching inside -- you know I don't know how serious we can take them. Has anyone put forward their name as a challenger?"

Three options

And so the NDP's dilemma looms large. Former respected MLAs on both sides of the issue of whether James should stay or go while riding associations also taking positions for and against.

Is there any solution that won't tear the party apart?

Three options seem possible, although none come without some pain.

First, those unhappy with James could agree to stand down their complaints until the Nov. 2011 review and let the party process take place as now planned.

But if the BC Liberals new leader starts winning back significant public support after taking office, the odds of an early election go up dramatically.

That means both the NDP's lead and its members' confidence that a review of James would take place before the next election start disappearing, to be replaced by panic -- that truce would quickly end.

Second, James could simply resign, either to leave the leadership or to contest it in a challenge to potential successors in the party. Either way, that would end a divisive battle over her continued leadership but leave her supporters angry she was pushed out.

The third solution is slightly radical -- for the NDP at least -- but has the advantage of being democratic and resolving the thorny issue much more quickly and effectively than any other option.

The NDP provincial council could simply vote to move up the date of the Nov. 2011 convention and its scheduled leadership review to early next year.

As the party constitution states: "Time and place of Conventions shall be determined by Provincial Council" on not less than 90 days notice.

That means the NDP convention could take place as early as March 2011.

With Premier Gordon Campbell now staying in office until well after Feb. 2011, when the BC Liberal Party holds a special convention to change its leadership elections rules, there seems no chance of an election earlier than the summer or early fall of next year.

Don't paper it over

If James passes the leadership review vote with a strong enough mandate to continue, the debate is over. If not, the NDP will have time for a leadership contest before the next election.

Whatever decision is made by the NDP provincial council this weekend, or by James or simply by individual members, the party has to find a solution it can not only live with but promote to B.C. voters -- and likely sooner than later.

Papering over the problems will fool no one.

And the consequences of failure to resolve internal differences will be felt far more by British Columbians in need who have been shamefully mistreated and neglected through nine years of Campbell government than by NDP MLAs and staff.

That's what ought to be considered the first and foremost priority for a party committed to social justice.



Anonymous said...

Carole is worthwhile and would make a great leader but unfortunately most British Columbians do not think any further than media presence and through a distorted MSM lens.

However the NDP is fortunate to have several very strong potential candidates in addition to Carol.

Don Davies:


Corky Evans:


Roland Arnet said...

Stay with Carol. She has done a good job.This is about
teamwork as much as anything.If the members of the
team can pull together,and present a strong united
front,I believe that will get us where we want to go.
When internal division becomes obvious ,the public
will lose its' confidence.
Roland Arnet

Josh Steffler said...

It is time to change the system..both the NDP and the Liberals love the way the system works right now...they get the power, we have to do what we are told...if we dont like it wait 4 years for the next election....

The solution is Direct Democracy like the Swiss do...The HST Petition is a perfect example of direct democracy. The people should have more of a say in how the province is run.

then our tax dollars would go to what we want, instead of the Liberal's agenda and friends or the NDP's agenda and friends...

I urge people to check out BC Refederation for the only party who would END the HST and bring real power to the people, not just replace the talking heads with different talking heads.


Anonymous said...

"Carole is worthwhile and would make a great leader but unfortunately most British Columbians do not think any further than media presence and through a distorted MSM lens."

Typical excuse, blame the media for something that wasn't theirs in the first place.

A better solution is to quit blaming the media for things caused by the NDP themselves. Same goes for any other party.

The media and of course blogs and so forth will only respond to what it sees.

Henri said...

1:16 PM PST Roland Arnet said...
Stay with Carol. She has done a good job.
A simple question Roland. Just what has Carole "done" in order to receive such a compliment,please enlighten were all eyes and ears.
As far as Im concered she has "done" Jack squat.

Anonymous said...

Bill great to have you back Bro!

This idear of changing the date is brilliant!

This weekends PC convention should pay heed to this advice or suffer the consequences.

I suspect, going by the agenda, that their plan is to crush the complainers, roll out some pro Carole polling and come down hard with disciplinary language to unite behind the leader or the big bad media will prey upon us.

The fact is a leadership reveiew in March would keep us in the leadership story. It would also reinvigorate interest in the party while giving Carole an opportunity to strengthen her leadership.

And if she loses than she does not have the support she needs to win as was obvious in the last election with no volunteer turn out and low voter turn out.

You called it Bill, lets see if Moe and company will listen.

Anonymous said...

Carole James is a monument to the failure of affirmative action and political correctness . . . PERIOD!

Politics is "War By Other Means" and Ms. James is intellectually incapable of "advancing to contact" on that front.

James and her fellow-travelers the likes of Moe Sihota and Joy McPhail grossly mistake her stupidity wrapped in stubborness as strength of leadership.

Successful leadership is . . . strength with adaptabilty to the changing ground environment.

And Carole James has demonstarted no such skill or action when presented with challenges and opportunites over the last seven years by the evil empire of Gordon Campbell.

James continues to repeat her mistakes and does nothing to correct her failures.

The Duke of Wellington was once asked how he managed to beat Napoleon at Waterloo, his response reflected Napoleon's stubborness to change tactics as the nature of war changed . . . "HE CAME ON IN THE SAME OLD WAY AND WE BEAT HIM IN THE SAME OLD WAY"

The BC Liberals are struggling to find a "Cincinatus" type leader, likely Carol Taylor, who will quickly patch-over the party and prevent anarchy in BC by defeating Carole James and her gang of pig-headed weak sisters.

For the citizens of BC this is a massive betrayal since we deserve not just a better government but most certainly a better opposition party!


Anonymous said...

I used to think James would be fine. But look at all the advantages that Campbell has given her to really stand out, and what has she done with it? Nothing. She needs to step aside I think. Either that or invite Bob Simpson back, apologize and say it was an error in judgement, and start talking with her party and not trying to dictate it like Campbell did with his.

Ed Seedhouse said...

The leader of a political party does not win an election. It is the party that wins or loses, not just the leader.

The NDP in BC can win the next election whenever it is called and whomever the leader is. Or it can lose it.

Carol James is perfectly capable of being the Premier of B.C. as are a number of other current MLAs and probably even some others on the outside.

Even if you want a different leader it is silly to make a change now, in a panicked rush. Wait at least until after the Liberals have named their leader if you think who the leader is is important. Or risk ending up like the party did in the early 1980's when it picked a new leader to fight Bill Bennet and ended up losing to someone else entirely, the Zalm.

Personally I think that the ruckus is being caused by a few panickers and aided and abbetted by the panic mongers and fear mongers in the province's press.

It is sad to see the complaints about James that seem to me to really amount to nothing more than name calling.

Henri said...

Can BC NDP leader Carole James win the next provincial election?
A simple answer, NO...

Anonymous said...

Why would an sane person want to be the next premier of BC?

Cleaning up after the BC Libertarians have had their way with our provincial finances will be an arduous and thankless job. A massive multi-billion dollar debt will be the lasting legacy of Gordon Campbell's hubris and cleaning up after his mess will not be easy.

Paul said...

Carole James lost twice in a row - to Pinocchio - for that she must go.

If she wasn't just as stubborn as Pinocchio himself she would have stepped down five minutes after last years election.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who believes that Carole James, (should she win the next election) is actually the Premier, with Moe Sihota as party president is dreaming. She is far too malleable, and weak to stand up to him - or any one of the rest of her "handlers." She'll do as she's told, or cajoled.

NDP have lost my confidence, they have lost my vote.

Richard Hughes said...

Excellent piece Bill. One more option. Schedule a Leadership Convention Spring 2011 and dispense with the Leadership Review.It was only put in when it looked as if it would be too late to act if she lacked support.
Considering finances two conventions could be difficult at best.

Ralph Tieleman said...

If I was coaching a baseball team and Carole James was pitching , I'd be warming up the bullpen.....

Anonymous said...

"For the citizens of BC this is a massive betrayal since we deserve not just a better government but most certainly a better opposition party!"

For once have to agree. The NDP used to be the best Opposition ever in B.C. Had opposition down to a science. The best in the business.

So what happened? The NDP needs to improve themselves if they want to be the best there is when it comes to opposition.

Anonymous said...

A bridge was name after former Premier Bill Bennett; Today another Bill Bennett was kicked out of Cabinet

Is he to be the next Premier?


Anonymous said...

Carole James, should have had, a private meeting with Bob Simpson, to iron out their differences. The NDP are now split, and their voters are leaving the NDP, because of no confidence. Because of the BC Liberal Taliban, our faith in any politician, has taken a nose dive. We see governments, as corrupt. The BCR wasn't for sale, was an election lie. The HST not on the BC Liberals radar, another election lie. The provincial deficit, another Liberal lie. The lies, deceit, corruption, and cheating to win, is the BC Liberals forte. Then we have the internal fighting within the NDP. So, it's time we start looking into the new parties. BC people are angry, BC is the most corrupt province in all of Canada. Not exactly a badge of honor, as Campbell thinks it is.

Anonymous said...

"Even if you want a different leader it is silly to make a change now, in a panicked rush. Wait at least until after the Liberals have named their leader if you think who the leader is is important. Or risk ending up like the party did in the early 1980's when it picked a new leader to fight Bill Bennet and ended up losing to someone else entirely, the Zalm."

Partially correct. But that was more of a manifestation of Dave Barrett ending his time as leader since he was leader c. 1969 through the 1983 election which he lost by his own errors. In the end it was David Vickers that was supposed to win, but Bob Skelly came up the middle. He turned out to be one of the worst leaders the NDP had, too mushy and quishy. The NDP at the time had no idea of the circumstance of Bill Bennett leaving and that was never a factor in the NDP choosing who they wanted.

But bring a charismatic leader against another one who was boring and actually choked on the first day of the election, and guess who wins out? The NDP didn't have much to offer the voters, but still came away with a respectable number of seats and good MLAs.

Anonymous said...

Carole James and Moe Sihota. Now I have two reason to not support the NDP. With James at the helm she will set a record. Three elections three defeats. And that's against the most corrupt government BC has ever had.

Old socialist said...

If Carole James resigns this weekend and runs again, she may well win the leadership and be well supported in the election. Her denial of the depth of discontent is deepening the divide daily. If she does not step down and either run or withdraw completely, she will face massive an unfriendly opposition in November 2011. Moe's "under the table" deal has also hurt Carole.
She knew about it. She arranged it.
Not good for the image.

Anonymous said...

I like Carol James, I also like Bob Simpson. However, the division in the NDP, has cost them votes. I don't trust the Conservatives, because of, Harper and Campbell's very close relationship, Campbell works for Harper. The Conservatives and the Liberals, are far too cozy. Many BC people are looking into new party's. BC citizens, are fed up with, corruption, greed and deceit, of the BC Liberal party.

Anonymous said...

I like Carole James as a person, but she has had two elections to prove that she could win over the electorate.

It's time to choose a new leader for the NDP -- someone who can win -- and reverse the damage of the greedy corporate puppets in the Liberal party.

I agree with Bill Bennett, Campbell is not a nice man. We don't need a bully in power, but we do need a decisive and strong leader who inspires the NDP rank-and-file to work hard for her/him.

Anonymous said...

"The fact is a leadership review in March would keep us in the leadership story. It would also reinvigorate interest in the party while giving Carole an opportunity to strengthen her leadership."
Yeah, it would make the party stronger: My only question is why wait till March. But it's all mute now as Carole has pushed the whole issue under the carpet more or less by sleight of hand, ie: Not allowing her opposition in the party more than one or two days to organize before her surprise leadership vote of today.
First, that's not democratic. Second, it's bad leadership because it won't make the issue go away; in fact it gives the Liberal party a tool to use in the next election to try and divide the NDP. Third, if she had called a leadership convention ASAP that would have demonstrated leadership and manifested a strong and united party.