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November 12, 2010

Trial Run for James

Some of NDP Leader Carole James' opponents believe that Gordon Campbell's replacement will magically make the 25 point gap between the parties disappear so a snap election can be called and the BC Liberals can be rewarded with a new mandate a year or more ahead of the set May 14, 2013 election date. That's not the wishful thinking of the BC Liberal caucus; it's an argument advanced by a handful of New Democrats who want James to step down so she can be replaced with Lord knows who.

At a time when New Democrats should be working on a transition plan so they can tell voters what to expect after an NDP win in 2013, a small handful of people who appear unable to read either the party's constitution or a calendar are firing inwards. Attempts to force James out before the constitutionally required vote on leadership at the Nov 2011 convention will do nothing but hurt the NDP. In late 2011 BC will know who the Liberal leader (and premier) is, and the result of the vote on the HST. If a majority of delegates at the November 2011 NDP convention want a leadership race, they can vote to have one, but at least they will be making an informed decision at that time. Technically 50 percent plus 1 makes a vote necessary, but James probably needs at least a 70% confidence vote. If there is an NDP leadership race in 2012 (after the convention decision) it would still provide plenty of time before the May 2013 election.

This weekend the executive of the BC Liberal party meets to consider what to do in the aftermath of Campbell's resignation. Like most of the BC Liberal's $10-for-four-years members, you cannot turn to the party's constitution to see what governs the executive's options because it disappeared from the party's website. Sections of it have appeared on Sean Holman's blog, but one crucial missing section covers the provisions for amending the constitution so as to shift power from the Fraser Valley to the Interior. That is what replacing the current one-member-one-vote system with one that gives each of the 85 constituencies equal weight would do. (Some in the mainstream media are too politically correct to say that it is about signing up members in the temples.) The fight over that potential BC Liberal constitutional change is almost as important as the vote itself since it could mean that every vote in the Interior would be worth hundreds of votes in the Lower Mainland. A fight on a change like that might split most political parties.

New Democrats should wait and see what the BC Liberals do to themselves in their internal battles.

New Democrats should draw attention to the public fight between former Solicitor General Kash Heed and possible leadership candidate and current Solicitor General Rich Coleman over BC's tough drinking-driving rules. The two former police officers have radically different views. Heed celebrates the crackdown, while Coleman thinks it is just fine to knock back a few before hitting the road.

If a rural-urban power struggle and the drunk-driving dispute aren't enough, New Democrats can point to a very public name calling spat between two cabinet ministers over the massive reorganization of resource ministries. That's the reorganization where Energy Minister Bill Bennett criticized Campbell for not consulting him or other ministers. As reported by the Vancouver Sun's Jonathan Fowlie, Bill Bennett and Kevin Krueger took shots at each other on Kamloops radio station CHNL. Krueger called Bennett's behaviour "petulant and ridiculous" Bennett shot back, on-air, saying: "Kevin's always struggled with his emotions and I appreciate that he has put his foot in his mouth over the years many many times."

Any sensible political party wouldn't be able to believe their luck with the hand dealt to the NDP, but for the likes of some in Nanaimo-North Cowichan it is not good enough that James is likely to be elected Premier in 2013. They argue that she can't be certain to be re-elected to a second term as premier in 2017. Those of us who will consider it a victory to be fit and alert in 2017 can recall that no NDP Premier in BC history has served two terms. If anyone can do it, my money is on cool and collected Carole James.

The NDP's provincial council meets in Victoria the weekend of November 20-21. Although the meeting is behind closed doors, it is almost certain that anything that is important at that meeting will appear on Sean Holman's PublicEyeOnline before delegates return to their hotel rooms. We'll soon see whether a few malcontents can muster a substantial vote in the party's governing council. I suspect they are willing to help the Liberals with public criticisms because they can't win when they are counted amongst the 130 members of the NDP's provincial council.

I was very unhappy with how the May 2009 election campaign was conducted by the NDP. The TV advertisements lacked any consistent message. I brought my concerns to the party convention immediately following the election. The November 2009 NDP convention saw a shakeup in the party with a change in the party's president and provincial secretary as well as a constitutional amendment that required a vote on leadership at the 2011 convention. From what I saw at that convention, over 90% of the delegates strongly supported James and the members of the party's executive. It appears that those who are unhappy with James didn't have the ability to organize in November 2009 and don't have confidence that they can in 2013. The Liberal's leadership problems, the drunk-driving dispute and cabinet fight over the resource ministry reorganization makes the NDP challenges look trivial.

My advice to Carole James is to take the internal NDP issues as a trial-run because the challenges become infinitely more difficult once you are premier.