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Former Vancouver mayor and B.C. premier Mike Harcourt September 7, 2007 in Vancouver.Laura Leyshon/The Globe and Mail

Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt is challenging B.C.'s New Democrats to put aside the current turmoil and draft new policies to be ready for the desk of Carole James's successor.

"And then the new leader can take it from there," Mr. Harcourt, premier from 1991 to 1996, said in an interview on Monday.

He said the NDP would face a risk of inertia "if they dropped tools" and sat on their thumbs for the next three to six months. "We've had enough of that in the last while."

Mr. Harcourt, who resigned after a party scandal involving charity funding, said Ms. James must have endured a "terrible, traumatic, heartbreaking time," but that he wasn't surprised that she was not able to stay since 40 per cent of her caucus was against her.

Now, he said, the NDP party apparatus should be working with caucus to come up with policies on issues ranging from dealing with pine beetles to health-care costs in advance of any possible election, noting he did as much before he became premier.

"You take some ideas out to people and you let them bang them around and out of that you get some good ideas and policies and put them into a platform. It can be done, it has been done and it should be done," he said.

And he said Ms. James was bang on in trying to connect with business, a process of outreach said to have upset some in the party.

"You're always going to have people in the NDP who think that business is evil and making a profit is bad. It's a stupid opinion, but you have to take that on. I think it's important to reach out and have a good, working relationship with the business community and investors," he said.

"You can establish a working relationship even though you know the vast majority of them are going to be supporting the right-wing coalition, whatever it's called."

He said he believes most New Democrats share his view.

Mr. Harcourt has often joked about staying as far away from active politics as possible since his resignation, but said he was commenting on this situation and, indeed, had signed a letter in support of Ms. James, out of a conviction that the NDP needs to be ready to govern.

"I want to see the NDP be fit to govern, and put that choice before British Columbians and then let the very active people of British Columbia make a decision, and right now the NDP is not ready," he said.

Governments "run out of gas" after two or three terms, he said, and this one has serious problems, including the HST and what many saw as evasions over the deficit.

Mr. Harcourt said he hoped divisions in caucus could be ironed out through the leadership process. "It's really a test of whether the [NDP]is fit to govern, and if they can't resolve it, they're not fit to govern. If they can, they have got a chance."

Former NDP finance minister Paul Ramsey said he thinks the NDP will need an insider as leader because developments are unfolding so fast there will be no time for an outsider to get up to speed if a new Liberal leader calls a snap election.

"It's a steep leader curve," Mr. Ramsey said. "If whoever the new Liberal leader is would sign in blood that there wouldn't be an election 'til 2013, then my view might be different. I think you need someone who understands what choices are facing the province and somebody who understands how government works because this caucus was … essentially a government in waiting and doing some of the work of a government in waiting.

"Somebody needs to pick up and continue that work."