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Norm Macdonald

B.C. New Democratic Party MLA Norm Macdonald will go unpunished for challenging party Leader Carole James over her right to discipline caucus members, even after he lambasted her publicly for violating the principles of due process.

Ms. James, who fired Bob Simpson from her caucus earlier this month over a subtler rebuke of her leadership, said Monday that she is not threatened by a fundamental disagreement with a popular member of her caucus.

Dissent, on the other hand, won't be tolerated.

"This isn't anything to do with disagreement," she said in an interview on Monday. "This is whether you can work as a member of the team. Norm can, Bob couldn't."

Ms. James's leadership woes have been mounting since her decision to fire Mr. Simpson. At least two party riding associations are now calling for a full leadership contest, and it is clear Mr. Macdonald is not alone within the NDP caucus in questioning her response to Mr. Simpson's persistent questions about the direction of the party.

Mr. Simpson's offence was to pen an opinion that Ms. James ought to take stronger positions on policy matters. Although his criticism was muted, it became the final straw for Ms. James.

Mr. Macdonald will not be expelled from caucus, party observers say, because he is not seen as a threat to Ms. James' grip on leadership. So he was free on Monday to contradict her account of why he gave up his job as caucus chair. Free, also, to suggest her handling of Mr. Simpson was unprincipled.

He quit the caucus executive position last week in a move that Ms. James characterized as a simple dispute over whether she was too harsh on Mr. Simpson.

"Norm disagreed around the level of discipline," she said last week.

But in an interview on Monday, Mr. Macdonald said that's just not correct.

"I don't presume to say what the level of discipline should be," he said. "Bob made a mistake. But we have an established process," and that does not allow the party leader to make unilateral decisions without consulting with the caucus on due process. "The caucus chair's role was to ensure we proceed in a principled way," he said. "Sometimes principles come at inconvenient times."

Ms. James said he is entitled to express his belief but she maintains that as party leader she was within her rights to take action without consultation.

"I respect Norm for his difference of opinion," she said. "In an ideal world you would have an opportunity to talk things over with caucus and have a discussion, but the buck stops with the leader. And the leader sometimes has to make tough decisions."

She maintained the latest fracture within her caucus is insignificant and the state of the party is good - although the party brass are struggling to maintain membership and repay campaign debts.

"There are always distractions, this is obviously a distraction and it's not going to get me off track," she said.

Mr. Simpson, the now-Independent MLA for Cariboo North, said the cracks are deeper.

"My understanding is that there is a core within caucus that is using this situation to address ongoing fundamental issues about Carole's leadership and how the caucus operates," he said in an interview.

Although his name has been expunged from the B.C. NDP website, he said he is still committed to rebuilding the party. "The grassroots support has melted away. … We need to see that as a serious signal that we don't have purchase, not only with the public, but with the party."