B.C. NDP Leader Carole James is facing a widespread caucus revolt, led by party stalwart Jenny Kwan, demanding she submit to an immediate leadership contest.
Ms. Kwan, considered an iconic figure in the provincial party, offered a devastating critique of Ms. James's leadership. "I have seen debates stifled, decision-making centralized and individual MLAs marginalized," the MLA for Vancouver-Mt. Pleasant told reporters on Wednesday after releasing a lengthy statement.
Ms. Kwan, who sat at Ms. James's side in the legislature, is backed by as many as 13 members of caucus who have refused to endorse their party leader. The "Baker's Dozen" were identified at a party conference almost two weeks ago but have not issued a direct challenge to Ms. James until now.
It puts the leadership of both of the province's main political parties in question. The governing B.C. Liberal Party will hold a leadership vote in February to replace Premier Gordon Campbell, and some New Democrats are anxious that they'll lose ground when faced with a fresh adversary.
On Wednesday, six NDP MLAs confirmed they are backing Ms. Kwan in calling for a leadership contest, while the other six did not return phone calls.
In effect, the dissidents are challenging Ms. James to either quit or fire them en masse.
"There is strength in numbers," noted MLA Michael Sather, who has been suspended from the NDP caucus in the past for breaking ranks on a policy issue. "I certainly stand behind Jenny's statement."
Ms. James did not respond on Wednesday and is expected to make a statement on Thursday.
Bruce Ralston, a James loyalist, said it may be time for the dissidents to be fired from the 34-member caucus. He called Ms. Kwan's statement "contradictory if not incoherent" and noted that 84 per cent of the party's governing body just gave Ms. James a vote of confidence 10 days ago. "Jenny says she's concerned about the erosion of democracy … clearly she has no respect for that."
Norm Macdonald, who quit as caucus chair after Ms. James fired Bob Simpson for questioning her leadership, is backing Ms. Kwan. "Jenny Kwan has served the NDP with distinction through some of the toughest times the party has faced," he said. "Her integrity can't be questioned."
MLA Robin Austin said his constituents have been telling him for some time that Ms. James must be replaced if the NDP hope to win the next election.
"I'm sad to say that Jenny's statement today is an accurate one. I've been hearing from my constituents for months and months about our inability with Carole as leader to connect and give them a sense of vision as to where we would go."
Another MLA, Nicholas Simons, said the 13 caucus dissidents were forced into the open at a meeting of the party's government body almost two weeks ago, when Carole James's supporters were asked to don yellow scarves. The 13 stood out with their refusal to wear a scarf.
"I've been identified unwillingly by the party, but now that I have been outed, my integrity requires that I'm not flip-flopping around on the point," Mr. Simons said. "If I choose between blind loyalty and integrity, I have to choose integrity because I need that all my life."
Harry Lali, another long-time New Democrat first elected in 1991, noted that Ms. Kwan was one of two MLAs who held the party together when it faced near-extinction after the 2001 election.
"So when an icon of the NDP like Jenny Kwan speaks out, New Democrats across the province ought to heed her advice," he said. "It's an opinion 40 per cent of caucus members happen to agree with."
He said the only way Ms. James can silence her critics is to either leave or seek a renewed mandate by running as a candidate for leadership.
"If the party stays with the status quo, the MLAs will have to shut up and line up behind that leader. That will put an end to the bickering and people will be able to get on with the work that needs to be done."
In her statement to reporters, Ms. Kwan singled out the revelation that party president Moe Sihota has been collecting a stipend from organized labour. "It shocked me to the core," she said, adding it was an inappropriate, backroom deal that Ms. James did not share with her caucus.
The MLAs learned over the summer that the NDP is using a "generous, earmarked gift from the labour movement" to pay Mr. Sihota a $75,600 annual stipend.
With files from Sean Holman