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opinion

Provincial NDP Leader Carole James in her office at the BC Legislature in Victoria November 23, 2009.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Everything has changed now. The decision by long-time NDP MLA Jenny Kwan to call for leadership change is the clearest signal yet that the caucus revolt that sprung up last month in opposition to Carole James's control of the party is not going away.

And now the NDP leader faces a most difficult reckoning: stay and fight on or capitulate to the mutiny?

In the circumstances, it's difficult to see how Ms. James can ignore the cranky contingent in her ranks demanding renewal at the top. Last month, 13 NDP MLAs were identified as being against her staying on to fight the next election.

A meeting of the party's provincial council was called to deal with the nascent uprising as well as a motion put from a handful of riding associations calling for a leadership convention in 2011. When council voted 84 per cent against the proposed resolution, Ms. James declared the infighting over.

But it wasn't. And now she seems to have three choices, each of them unappealing in their own way.

Firstly, she could move the date of the next convention to the spring so a vote on her leadership could be held earlier. This option is fraught. If she was to receive anything less than 75 per cent support, she would be deemed vulnerable. If she tried to stay on with less than that, her problems would continue.

Secondly, she could simply call a leadership convention. Under that scenario, however, it's difficult to imagine her running to keep the job she already has. If she goes that route, she is out as leader.

Her final alternative is to battle the dissidents straight up. She has already booted one disgruntled NDP MLA - Bob Simpson - out of caucus. It would seem Ms. Kwan will now no longer be welcome either, which could ignite a full-scale exodus among the so-called Baker's Dozen who oppose her.

This would not be an ideal scenario, to put it mildly. In the short term, it would weaken Ms. James's grasp on the party. In the long term, however, it might be the best thing that could happen to the NDP.

Many of the dissidents are the weakest members in caucus. Few, if any, would be cabinet material should the party form government after the next election. Some have ideas that are so at odds with the 21st Century world in which we live it's hard to fathom them making any positive contribution in a modern, progressive political party. (One who was invited to a meeting called to discuss innovative policy ideas suggested setting a limit on how much individuals in B.C. could make.)

Going this route, Ms. James could rid her party of people who don't share her vision for success and begin recruiting top-notch candidates who do. But it would make the NDP leader, with potentially 13 fewer MLAs in her ranks, a sitting target when the legislature convenes with a new Liberal leader. One who would undoubtedly be raring to get to the polls to take advantage of a badly wounded opponent.

Probably, the most attractive option would be to move up the date of the party's next convention and have a leadership review. If Ms. James gets the vote of confidence she needs, that settles it. The rabble rousers are out. If she doesn't get the required support, it's over.

Although Ms. James has shown recently she is a fighter, I can't imagine she isn't seriously contemplating resigning. Who needs this grief and aggravation? The B.C. NDP is one of the most difficult political parties in the country to govern. It has a perennial death wish.

While it consistently demonstrates an inability to manage its own affairs, the NDP wonders aloud after every election why the public won't trust it with their jobs and economic well being. Maybe Ms. James would be better off washing her hands of this crew and living a more stress-free existence.

Let's see who this messiah is that her opponents imagine will take them to the Promised Land.

Whichever way this ends up breaking, the NDP is a deeply, deeply divided party right now. Its very survival as a relevant political institution is at stake. As things stand, the Liberals could have Environment Minister Barry Penner's cat, Ranger - being touted on Facebook as a candidate - leading them into the next election and likely win hands down.