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'Carole James is dividing the party': NDP MLA Kwan

Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan released a statement this afternoon criticizing Carole James' leadership of the British Columbia New Democratic Party and calling for a leadership convention.

Kwan, first elected in 1996 and one of just two NDP MLAs re-elected in 2001, notes that she nominated James for leader in 2003 and her decision to speak out was difficult to make.

"The time for renewal in our party is long overdue," she wrote. "It is untenable that 40 percent of caucus members cannot publicly say they support the leader. Carole James is dividing the party by staying on as leader."

Kwan supported Katrine Conroy when she resigned as caucus whip on Nov. 19 and was among a group of 13 NDP MLAs who declined to show support for James' leadership at the party's provincial council meeting on Nov. 20.

"Because all NDP MLAs are bound by the principles of caucus confidentiality, it has been very difficult for us to tell our story," Kwan's statement said. "But now I feel compelled to clarify why I believe the best way to achieve democratic renewal in the NDP is through a full, one-member one-vote Leadership Convention, which should be held as soon as possible."

Under James' leadership debate has been stifled, decision making centralized and individual MLAs marginalized, she said. "Many are shocked at how some critical decisions are made or how caucus decisions have been later altered."

Here is Kwan's full statement:

Statement from Jenny Kwan, MLA, Vancouver-Mt. Pleasant December 1st, 2010

Seven years ago, with pride and hope in my heart, I nominated Carole James to be the leader of the BC New Democratic Party at the 2003 convention.

Given the recent conflict within the NDP caucus, many people are wondering why I am part of a group that feels there should be a democratic change of leadership.

Because all NDP MLAs are bound by the principles of caucus confidentiality, it has been very difficult for us to tell our story.

But now I feel compelled to clarify why I believe the best way to achieve democratic renewal in the NDP is through a full, one-member one-vote Leadership Convention, which should be held as soon as possible.

Under Carole James' leadership, there has been a steady erosion of our democratic principles. Debate has been stifled, decision-making centralized, and individual MLAs marginalized.

Many are shocked at how some critical decisions are made or how caucus decisions have been later altered.

Equally dismaying is how MLAs then learn about these decisions through the media. This poor decision-making practice and a lack of genuine consultation within our Caucus is an ongoing source of frustration for many within the Caucus.

As well, for too long there has been a clear lack of direction under the leadership of Carole James. Whenever a challenging policy decision arises, often the default position is to avoid taking a stand.

The delay in grappling with difficult but critical public policy choices often results in making the NDP irrelevant in the hearts and minds of British Columbians.

This is clearly reflected both in the results of the last provincial election and in public opinion polls. While many British Columbians want to get rid of the BC Liberals, they feel that there is no positive alternative in the electoral horizon.

A political vacuum is being created in BC. As a result, we had a record low voter turnout in the 2009 election, with the NDP receiving fewer actual votes than in the 2005 election.

In addition, the polling tells a consistent story about Carole James' inability to capture the interest and support of British Columbians. At a time when the BC Liberal Party and the Premier's personal approval rating have fallen to all time lows, the NDP under her leadership has not been able to capitalize on the BC Liberals' downfall.

But it's not just the polls that are telling a consistent story. You hear it at the doorsteps and out in the community, from British Columbians who are desperate for change.

The NDP owes it to British Columbians to present a clear direction and a progressive alternative vision to the BC Liberals' terrible record, but after seven years Carole James has yet to present that vision.

But that is not all. Worse than making no decisions is the concern that we make bad decisions.

I have served as an NDP MLA for 14 years. In that period, I have seen bad decisions made and poor judgment exercised from all sides of the house. The Liberals are living that nightmare right now with their Harmonized Sales Tax decision.

While we in the NDP have rightly called for open and transparent government, the financial deal made with our own party president Moe Sihota was not done in a transparent manner.

Back room deals should have no place in today's politics. Yet Carole James knew about this deal and did not intervene. In fact, the NDP caucus was not even informed of this arrangement until recently. This was shocking to many of us because engaging in such questionable practices is a recipe for disaster.

I feel very strongly that we must demonstrate the highest of ethical standards in order to earn the trust of the electorate. The backroom deal struck for the President of the party has no place in today's NDP.

This has led me to the conclusion that if we are going to form the new government British Columbians want, then we need change and democratic renewal in our party that is based on sound practices. And yes, that starts from the top.

I did not arrive at this decision lightly nor did the rest of my colleagues, who also feel that it is time for a change.

British Columbians want more than an opportunity to vote the Liberals out of office; they want the chance to choose a party with an inspiring vision and a clear alternative, progressive point of view. If we are to demonstrate that we have learned our lessons from mistakes made in the 1990s, then we must not engage in practices that have caused so many British Columbians to lose faith in the NDP.

The time for renewal in our party is long overdue. It is untenable that 40 percent of caucus members cannot publicly say they support the leader. Carole James is dividing the party by staying on as leader.

The BC NDP needs to have a leadership race in order to revitalize itself and to unify the party. We need an NDP that British Columbians can vote for with confidence. We need an NDP with progressive policies and a decisive leader who can communicate these ideas to the public.

Now is the time for democratic change and party renewal - it is needed, it is exciting and it is overdue.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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