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October 13, 2010

James Takes NDP to Record Highs

In 1979 Dave Barrett lost to Bill Bennett even though that was the year the NDP won the highest percentage of the popular vote it ever received in a general election in BC, 46.0% compared to the Socred's 48.2%.

The NDP has only won three general elections in the history of BC: 1972 with 39.6% of the popular vote, 1991 with 40.7% and 1996 with 39.5%.

Carole James has led the NDP in two provincial elections; in 2005 she took the party from 2 seats in the legislature to 33 while winning 41.5% of the vote, and in 2009, 35 seats and 42.2% of the vote was won. Whether you look at polling by the Mustel Group or by Angus Reid, recent polls put the NDP at an all time high.

In an article in The Tyee, Bill Tieleman argued that the NDP hasn't capitalized on voter discontent. The alternative view is that by historical standards, the NDP under James is at an all time high and may have reached the limits to its ability to grow. Tieleman, and some others, suggest that by the time of the May 2013 election, Campbell will be replaced as the leader of the BC Liberals and the HST controversy will be resolved following the September 2011 initiative vote. That argument misses the point that the BC Liberal brand is permanently damaged. The issue is no longer Campbell or the HST; it is whether anyone can ever believe anything the BC Liberals say. They misled the public about breaking the HEU contract, they misled the public about selling BC Rail, and they misled the public about the province's deficit and the HST. Whatever they say in their 2013 platform and advertisements will not be believed.

It is not good enough for some New Democrats to watch the BC Liberals destroy themselves while they wait to make history by electing the first woman as premier. Upon being kicked out of caucus by James, Bob Simpson argued that the NDP needed to lay out solutions to many of the challenges that face the province, not in the weeks leading up to the 2013 vote, but more than two and a half years in advance. When asked what specific policies he wanted the party to advance, he responded with questions, not answers. Any party that put a significant part of its platform out six months before an election, let alone 30 months before the vote, would find the news media yawning and saying that it's all old news when the party was trying to get attention in the election period. That might not be the best way to debate policy alternatives, but it is the way politics and the news media work.

No one should think that Bob Simpson was kicked out of caucus because of two lines in an obscure website. He directly challenged the leadership of Carole James, and continues to do so after being booted out. In an CBC interview he spoke of wanting to see James gone by the spring. He and his supporters appear to ignore both the calendar and the party's constitution which requires a leadership review by way of a vote at the party's 2011 convention. Could it be seeing the BC Liberals destroy themselves, some want to replace James so they can realize their ambition of becoming premier? Those who are criticizing James are failing to say who they think would do a better job.

Tieleman suggested that the party's provincial council members could support a call from Simpson's Cariboo North riding to change its November 2011 convention to a full-fledge leadership convention. There are three problems with that argument: 1) James will likely enjoy support from council delegates, who will take offense at critical statements by Simpson with respect to the hard work they've done on policy development, 2) the provincial council does not have the power to alter the party's constitution, and 3) the party's constitution provides that the next NDP leader will be chosen by a vote of all members of the party, not by the traditional delegate only convention. Those who want to replace James no doubt know that they can't defeat her in a leadership vote. Although the constitution specifies that she stays as long as she gets 50% plus 1, politically she probably needs and will receive well over 70% delegate support in 2011. Their unconstitutional alternative is to attempt to force her to resign and thereby finesse the party's constitution, even though they do nothing but help the BC Liberals with their efforts.

Attacks on James may well increase her popularity with the general public. She is showing that she can stand up to elements in her party who resist her in charting a new direction. Internal party politics will be a drain on her time and energy, but the reward in terms of public respect may make it worth the effort. Simpson and his supporters may have helped James clear the air.