A Carole James Requiem

It was another eventful day in B.C. politics. Carole James mercifully stepped down as the leader of the BC NDP party, and soon the spin was thick and saucy, with a hint of bovine dung.

James, of course, cast the 13 dissident MLA’s as “bullies” and unity-wreckers, and herself as the innocent, hard-working victim who was – shades of Mike Harcourt – taking one for the team. She portrayed herself as an “excuse” for the dissidents to stop working for the party. And she repeatedly implied that unity was a virtue in itself, rather than the result of a proper democratic process.

The possibility that she was the problem never came up in her speech. The possibility that a two-time electoral loser should step aside was never mentioned. As I discussed in my April 29, 2009 entry, her refusal to make jobs and the economy her absolute priority has been a huge anchor for the NDP; this refusal was, of course, also ignored.

It certainly didn’t help that, according to NDP stalwart, Corky Evans, James forced the dissidents out in the open and into a corner. According to Evans, the 13 dissident MLA’s sent a confidential letter to James, asking her to resign. But instead of keeping it in-house, James and her supporters decided to make the rift public and expose her detractors to the media. At a November 20 party meeting, yellow scarves were used to identify those who were team players and those who were not. Evans explained it this way to the Georgia Straight:

“As we walked into the hotel the morning of the Provincial Council meeting, staff members stood in the hallway outside the meeting room and gave yellow scarves to everyone EXCEPT the folks they knew had signed or delivered the letter, and a few of the rest of us they figured might support the 13 signatories,” Evans maintains. “The result was surreal.”

He claims it was “the most divisive thing I have ever witnessed” in the NDP.

If this is true – and no one from the James’ camp has denied or minimized the very public result – then James clearly has to shoulder much of the blame for the current fiasco. “Outing” dissenters in the hope of quashing their opposition is a very dangerous gambit. You often turn those who were quietly dissenting into betrayed and vocal critics. This certainly seems to be the case for Jenny Kwan, who really hadn’t said much publicly until the “scarf meeting”.


Another interesting point that arises from James’ resignation is the power of the caucus. Even though the party membership or party leaders might select a party leader, in the end it is the parliamentary caucus that holds power. If the caucus – in whole or in part – can no longer support the leader, the leader is finished. It’s just another example of how party leadership is removed from the electorate, and how parliamentary power is a matter of confidence for both a party as a whole and a leader in particular. This is the most potent example of a “check and balance” in the parliamentary system.

Posted by Colin Welch at 7:38 PM
Edited on: Tuesday, December 07, 2010 6:44 PM


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