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December 3, 2010

NDP Coup

Forty five hours before the show-down at the OK Corral (alias Four Seasons in Vancouver), the Globe and Mail's Justine Hunter reported that the unlucky 13 will give an ultimatum to James when the NDP's emergency caucus meeting convenes on Sunday. According to Hunter, James "will have to fire all 13 of her dissident MLAs if she tries to eject any one of them." If that is true, it may be the first time the 13 could agree on anything.

Earlier in the day Lindsay Kines and Rob Shaw of the Times Colonist reported that rookie Saanich South MLA Lana Popham called for a leadership race saying: "I don't have a specific beef with Carole, I just think we're at a point right now that that's going to help us renew." "No specific beef", yet Popham, who is too new to the party to understand that "renewal" with a leadership race could cause many years of division in the NDP, has no hesitation to make that call.

On his blog, Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer reported that dissident MLA Bob Simpson concluded that he and the Baker's Dozen "were not likely to reach consensus on forming a new party, as they are, to put it mildly, all over the map in terms of strategy and vision."

I am in favour of kicking Kwan and a few others out of caucus, and all thirteen if they choose to follow. While that would make the next legislative session challenging, it would be fascinating to see who the 13 chose as their leader and caucus officers. They would be pressured to put out policies different than those of their former colleagues. They would be asked to show how they could rally public opinion to heights beyond the 48% enjoyed by their former colleagues. They would have to come up with a party name, an organization, fundraising and a platform. The split is similar to what the Anglican church recently experienced; however, instead of fighting over assets, the majority might insist that the minority take with them their share of the party's debt that was incurred to get them elected.

I'd bet that none of the 13 could get elected as independents or under the name of another party. I'm certain that the NDP will be finished for far longer if it caves into the minority than if it shows them the door. One way or the other the party is split and former friends will never speak to each other. So be it! Far better to build from a base committed to following the party's constitution than to wonder when the next time will be when a minority will demand that it is its way or the highway. The NDP would have no credibility in the next election if it allowed a minority of its caucus to dictate direction, leadership and policy at its whim. The only way the NDP can survive this dispute is for Carole James, with the support of the majority of her caucus, the executive and party members, to refuse the demands of an undemocratic caucus revolt.

The unlucky 13 do not have the support of all members in their constituency associations, but many believe that they magically represent all voters in their ridings even if they won by the skin of their teeth. After Delta North MLA Guy Gentner spoke against James, a member of his constituency emailed me to report that half of his executive had resigned and that of the 85 members in his constituency association, close to half opposed Gentner. The same situation confronts the other dissidents. They would be challenged to put new constituency associations together, and they would likely find it impossible to win re-election under a new banner.

It would be best for the NDP if the unlucky 13 apologized and got back to doing what they were elected to do, but the chances of that are slim and none. Far better that they leave the NDP caucus and the party rebuilds than to have a situation where the constitution and governing body of the party is ignored by a handful of people who think they are more important than the party they presented themselves to the voters as representing.