Strategic Thoughts

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November 30, 2003

The following column was prepared as a guest editorial for The Indo-Canadian Voice.

Big Steps for Carole James

On November 23rd Carole James was elected leader at one of the most exciting NDP conventions in over 30 years. At least a third of the delegates came to the convention undecided; at least three candidates stood a real chance. James won because of her outstanding organization and ability. On her first full day as leader she participated in some of the toughest media appearances in the province, and came across as someone with great promise. James will be a great asset in restoring the NDP as a competitive force in BC politics - the only party that stands a chance of challenging the Campbell government.

Campbell apologists put every tough question they could think of to James. Without hesitation James confidently answered every challenge.

On CKNW, Bill Good said "You're Metis. Not much was made of that prior to the convention yet most of the coverage since has been focusing on that, does that surprise you?" James responded "I'm certainly proud of being Metis, just as I'm proud of being a parent, proud of being a woman and proud of being a New Democrat."

Earlier in the interview, Good said "You have to stand for something". James answered that the platform will be rolled out over the next 18 months but added that the $6 "training wage" would go as would the policy to kick people off welfare on the basis of an arbitrary time limit.

Those who are wondering if the NDP can take the next step and become competitive are seeing that Carole James has what it takes. Jenny Kwan and Joy MacPhail are recognized as doing an outstanding job in the legislature. Since the 2001 election, public political support, as measured by public opinion polls, has jumped 50% for the New Democrats (from 22% to 31%) and has dropped 24% for the Campbell Liberals (58% to 44%). If a 14 point gap remains on election day, May 17, 2005, the Campbell Liberals will easily coast to a second overwhelming majority. The question is what can Carole James and the New Democrats do between now and then to close the gap?

James' skills will be used to build a broad coalition, to recruit capable candidates and to advance the rejuvenated, modern NDP's message. James will help the NDP grow by earning media coverage in dozens of local papers and radio stations throughout the province; she will meet with editorial boards and appear on talk shows. Some pundits may raise unrealistic expectations for the performance of the new leader, and then tell their listeners and readers that she has failed to meet them. James can talk directly to people and communicate with them through their community.

New Democrats were probably pleasantly surprised to read a November 25th Vancouver Sun editorial that said "In electing an outsider, the NDP at least has the appearance of having reinvented itself, which could go some way toward restoring the public's confidence." As someone who is not associated with former NDP governments, James cannot be tied to past decisions. From 1990 to 2002 James served on the Victoria School Board, and as chair of that Board for seven terms. Her role in education positioned her as an advocate for education, and she criticized the former government when she found it necessary. During an unprecedented five terms as President of the BC School Trustees Association, she demonstrated her leadership skills in bringing people together.

James can expect her critics in the Campbell government to focus on the role of labour in the NDP. New Democrats will not shy away from defending the rights of working people, but they have said that both corporate and union donations should be made illegal. That policy was made law by the NDP government in Manitoba. Records from Elections BC show that the NDP has consistently raised more money from individuals than the BC Liberals. In 2002 the NDP raised $1.95 million from individuals compared to $1.08 million for the BC Liberals, but that was almost all the NDP raised while the Liberals added a whopping $3.04 million from corporations - almost 80 times as much as the $39,000 the NDP received from unions. Under James' leadership the NDP's relationship with unions will be modernized but not abandoned.

Sam Bowles, a wise political economist, once said that the key to success lies in who controls the terms of the debate. The water buffalo tries to drag the crocodile onto dry land for the fight while the crocodile tries to drag the buffalo into the water. Carole James is quickly demonstrating that she knows when, where and how to determine the terms of the debate. Gordon Campbell and his apologists will find themselves debating on her terms and conditions.

The next provincial election will be on May 17, 2005 - 18 months from now. As the new leader of the NDP, Carole James has a lot of work to do in those 18 months. She will be judged by how voters respond, not by how the Campbell government and their friends characterize her.


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2003 David D. Schreck. All Rights Reserved.