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NDP riding president not entirely surprised by resignation

Carole James resigns as B.C. NDP leader, just weeks after resignation of premier



These are wild times for B.C. politics. On Nov. 3, Premier Gordon Campbell announced that he was resigning as premier, a year and a half into his third term. Now, just over a month later, Carole James - the head of the opposition B.C. NDP - has resigned after seven years as party leader.

James's resignation comes after a spate of public criticism of her leadership from 13 MLAs and prominent party members, including Jenny Kwan. That was expected to lead to an emergency caucus session over the weekend but instead private meetings were held. James announced her resignation Monday, although said she would continue in the position until a new leader is chosen by the party.

Lyle Fenton, the president of the NDP riding association for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky and a candidate in the 2005 provincial election, said the decision wasn't completely a surprise.

"I guess the difference between us, being the more traditional NDP, and the Liberals... is that we believe there is room in the economy for public and private enterprise, and what some members were seeing of Carole - though not discrediting her as an individual - was that wasn't being put forward enough," he said on Tuesday. "A lot of NDPers were questioning that. There are a lot of people that don't want to support the Liberals, but aren't sure what we were all about. Those questions spilled over to our MLAs in their ridings."

Some party members have questioned the timing of the party dissidents, given the opportunity presented by the divided Liberal Party.

Indeed, it would seem like the perfect time for the B.C. NDP. The Liberal Party is at its lowest point since they won power in 2001. Campbell's resignation came after public discontent and an MLA recall campaign over the Harmonized Sales Tax, rising fees at B.C. Hydro and B.C. Transit, school closures, the B.C. Rail scandal, and a variety of other hot button issues.

The B.C. Liberal Party is also divided, with no fewer than four MLAs announcing their intention to seek the party leadership - powerhouses Kevin Falcon, George Abbott and Mike de Jong, as well as Moira Stilwell. Christy Clark, a former cabinet minister, also announced her plans to run on Wednesday.

But while an implosion of the NDP could benefit the Liberal Party, Fenton is not sure there will be any impact. He says the timing could not be avoided.

"It's a tough call to say it's not the time or it is," he said. "The (leadership) question was raised at the last convention and it wasn't dealt with properly in my opinion - that's why it lingered, and that's why we're here."

Fenton says there was a request for a leadership review at the 2009 B.C. NDP convention, but instead of putting it to the floor the party's resolution committee instead only promised a leadership review outside the convention.

"A review and a convention are two different things," said Fenton. "A review is a report card and an assessment (where party members don't get to vote). It seemed like insiders were trying to control events, and that never goes over very well.... We're a grass roots democratic party and that's not how we want to operate."

As a result, the leadership question was delayed for at least another year, to 2011, which some party members believed was too late and too close to the next scheduled election in 2013.

Fenton says it has been tough for Carole James to be heard, believing that most corporate media in the province is sympathetic to the Liberal Party. For example, he says the media has given the Liberal Party a free pass on B.C. Hydro, which he says has gone from a healthy Crown corporation to a utility that's "starting to look like it's losing money."

Generally speaking, he says, people are tired of the political rhetoric and want someone to lead. "We could have put ourselves more out there than we have been," he said.

Fenton summed up the traditional NDP view as this: the party supports private enterprise, but anything that is better run as a monopoly, that is an essential service like health care and utilities, is better run by government than the private sector.

Over half a dozen names have already been put forward as Carole James's successor, but at press time no official leadership candidates had been announced.