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Carole James: Mission accomplished?

Hearing Carole James declare that the challenge to her leadership is over – because the NDP’s Provincial Council backed her – reminds me of George Bush on the US air craft carrier with the huge “Mission Accomplished” sign behind him after the initial attack in Iraq.

Talk about not getting it.

The NDP is now on suicide watch as James and Moe Sihota with James’ staff (eager to keep their jobs) egging her on, try to silence principled people in the party who know there has to be a change.

Those in the party who want a leadership review or a leadership convention point out that James’ leadership is severely lacking what it takes to win the next election. Who on earth could actually refute this sentiment? Of course she’s inadequate. If all it takes for this execrable government to be back in the running is to rid itself of Gordon Campbell that speaks volumes about how weak that leadership has been.

If James had been doing her job for the last seven years people would remember all the horrible policies of this government and they would be in danger of losing official party status in the next election. Apparently all they recall is that Campbell is a liar. The rest is lost because James never attacked the liberals for their destructive policies with enough energy and conviction to make it stick.

James’ performance before and after the Provincial Council meeting just confirm what the critics are saying – that she has no judgement, no political instincts and is incapable of strategic thinking. Did she really believe – and did the party brass believe – that simply saying it’s over would make it so? This position is dangerously delusional for the party and ultimately the province which faces another four years of the worst government the province has ever seen.

James will be exclusively responsible for that eventuality if she continues to hold on to her position. She will go down in the history books as sacrificing the good of the province for her own selfish ends.

The media spin on the “yellow scarves” caper at the Provincial Council meeting (supporters wore them, thirteen MLAs did not) completely misses the point. Who is responsible for bringing embarrassment to the party and to James? Certainly not the baker’s dozen who had not previously come out publicly and stated their opposition to the leader. Now she has identified them as a large group of dissidents. Just how does this help the party or James?  This outing was accomplished exclusively by the brinkmanship of James and her staff. What did she think the media would do? They did as they should have done – they counted the people without scarves and have established an “us” versus “them” scenario which will not go away.

And at least some MLAs were not even offered scarves to wear, meaning the outing was deliberate. James set up those who have legitimate questions about her leadership – a crude and ham-handed effort to embarrass them into supporting her.  But their opposition is based on principle, not self-interest, and they refused to be bullied.

This farce fits with James’ appalling position on the question of the leadership review. In what is a spectacular failure of judgement (that’s what leadership is all about in the end) she angrily dismisses critics as “complainers.” Well, duh. Of course they’re complaining – they have a lot to complain about. It is as if James doesn’t even understand that she is actually accountable for her record. Would she ever accept any criticism of any aspect of her leadership? Or is it all just a personal insult?

The long list of James’ failures is too depressing to compile so I will just name some of my favourites. The first came early in the first Campbell government when James insisted that the caucus vote in favour of a big increase in MLA salaries and a pension plan. At least one MLA told me later that he virtually begged her to oppose the bill – desperately trying to explain to her the firestorm that would result if the party voted in favour. She ignored the advice and was then – believe it or not – totally “shocked” at the wave of recrimination against the party.

Then there is the long and sorry history of the party’s failure to take on the grotesque giveaway of BC hydro resources to the voracious private sector power companies. The run-of-the-river hydro deals are a massive betrayal of the province’s interests and an assault on its environment. But James herself said barely a word for years and only brought it up in the middle of the last election when it was far too late to make it an issue.

She had many chances. In 2006, the government passed Bill 30 that abolished local zoning authority so that no local political authority could say no to a private power project on any river in BC. Municipalities were livid. Thirty three local governments representing one million residents in B.C. called on the province to set aside the legislation. At the Union of BC Municipalities annual meeting following the passing of Bill 30, it was almost the only topic of discussion – and a near-unanimous resolution was passed condemning the blatant interference in municipal affairs.

James addressed the UBCM meeting later and didn’t even mention the issue or the resolution. Here was her chance to champion municipal governments – and Bill 30 wasn’t the only Liberal insult she could have exploited – and she simply threw it away.  Nothing can explain this squandering of a political advantage except a stunning lack of political instinct. Here was an issue that wasn’t even ideological (the kind that terrifies James) but simply one that exposed Campbell’s abuse of power.

Lastly, it is striking that the only time I can recall James actually showing any passion or anger is at the members of the party and caucus who are demanding a leadership review. I may have missed it but I have never seen a TV clip of James actually expressing anger – moral outrage – at the Campbell wrecking crew’s policies. Hell, she should have been angry everyday since this awful man was elected.

British Columbians were angry everywhere but instead of affirming people’s anger she implicitly questioned its legitimacy and actually aided an abetted Campbell’s destructive agenda in doing so.  Imagine for a moment the difference it would have made if she had been out there joining people in their condemnation of Campbell.

Instead, James acted as though everything would be fine if everyone would just get along. This was her idea, I assume, of appearing responsible and statesman like.  But it was completely wasted on Campbell who had no interest in compromise and is incapable of empathy or compassion. Recent reports suggest he is an incurable bully. Not even his cabinet members could get along with him. Instead of appearing statesman like James just appeared weak and out of touch with ordinary people.

Carole James has to be replaced as NDP leader. She is incapable of providing the kind of passionate, inspired, intelligent leadership that will be required to wrest power away from the Liberals. The sooner she goes the better because the longer she stays the more damage she does to her party. If she doesn’t it will be just one more example of the emphasis the NDP puts on blind loyalty. In this case that misplaced loyalty is taking us all over a cliff.

Murray Dobbin is a BC writer and journalist. This column originally appeared on his blog. Reprinted with his kind permission.