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Carole James Quits 'in Best Interests of the Party'

NDP leader resigns after seven years, saying split in caucus was unfixable and some will 'see this as a win for the bullies.'

Andrew MacLeod 6 Dec

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.

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Carole James.

Carole James quit Monday as leader of the New Democratic Party of British Columbia blaming her departure on 13 MLAs who are opposed to her leadership and calling on the party's MLAs to work together.

"I know there will be individuals who see this as a win for the bullies," James told reporters gathered in her legislature office in Victoria. "In politics there are individuals who put self interest ahead of the common good."

Members of her caucus were focused on infighting and were no longer doing the work they needed to do for the people of the province, James said, adding they have been using her as the excuse for not doing that work.

"People don't have to like each other, but they have to focus on the work that needs to be done," she said. "I will not participate in slowing down that work."

She said she accepts no responsibility for the split in the caucus and has done everything she can to resolve the issues.

James said today she still enjoyed strong support from the council, the party executive and the labour movement. Two weeks ago, the NDP's council voted 84 per cent in favour of James continuing to lead the party.

'A very sad day': Karagianis

Last week veteran MLA Jenny Kwan from Vancouver-Mount Pleasant called for a leadership convention while releasing a blistering critique of James. A group of 13 MLAs, out of 34 NDP representatives in the legislature, are on record opposing James' leadership.

A spokesperson for Kwan said she would not be talking to the media today. Kwan released a statement that read in part: "I would like to thank Carole James for her leadership of the NDP and acknowledge her dedication and service to British Columbians over the last seven years in that capacity.

"Anyone who partakes in public life makes a great sacrifice... This has been a difficult time for our party. I look forward to the democratic renewal of our party, including a one member one vote leadership convention in the New Year. I am committed to seeing the New Democrats unite to defeat the BC Liberals in the next Provincial election."

The division in the NDP became public after James booted Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson from the caucus saying it was for his criticism of a speech she gave to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention on Sept. 30. That move led to the resignations of caucus chair Norm Macdonald and party whip Katrine Conroy.

Simpson did not respond to The Tyee's message by publishing time.

"This is a very sad day for me and a sad day for New Democrats across the province," said Maurine Karagianis, the MLA for Esquimalt-Royal Roads and a friend of James. "I think it's very sad we would see her leave under these circumstances or any circumstances."

Karagianis was the only MLA in the room while James spoke to reporters, but said it was because she was the only one close enough to get to the legislature on short notice. Newly elected Victoria city councillor Marianne Alto was also there.

Karagianis said she hoped the 13 opposed to James would take seriously the call to work together. "Many things we believe in have been sidelined while this infighting has been going on," she said.

Staying until January

James became leader of the B.C. NDP in 2003, two years after voters took the party out of power and elected just two NDP MLAs to the provincial legislature.

"Carole has led our party through an historic period of growth," said Jan O'Brien, the party's provincial secretary, in a news release. "She took our party from two to 35 MLAs, and held the BC Liberals to account each and every day.

"On behalf of every New Democrat, I want to extend my gratitude to her for her seven years of service."

James said the NDP caucus will look at a recommendation for an interim leader in January, which will need to be ratified by the party. She said she plans to stay as an MLA, representing Victoria-Beacon Hill, and is yet to decide whether she will run for re-election in 2013.

The NDP press release said the party's provincial council will select the interim leader. The party will decide the date and rules for selecting a leader, it said, noting the party's constitution requires a one-member, one-vote process.

Change on both sides: Abbott

Opposing politicians, including former attorney general and Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong and Green Party leader Jane Sterk, issued statements thanking James for her years of public service. So did the NDP MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake, Rob Fleming.

Former MLA and NDP strategist David Schreck called the people who forced James out "anarchists," and said the party will lose the next election because of them.

"New Democrats are bitterly divided over what has happened," he said. "Some will reduce their donations to a minimum but remain members, others will simply quit. A new leader will face a caucus that is fresh from having fought a civil war and is the laughing stock of the province. They can't possibly claim to be ready to form a government."

The bleeding in the NDP will continue, he predicted, paving the way for a new Liberal leader to win. "Jenny Kwan and her friends may be celebrating their victory in driving James out, but history will show what they've done to British Columbia."

At least one possible BC Liberal leader was reluctant to count the NDP out, however.

"Clearly the NDP is a very troubled political organization," said Liberal leadership contestant George Abbott. "It was pretty obvious the Carole James story was not going to come to a happy ending for Carole at least."

But the NDP will likely be ready to fight the next election when the time comes, he said. "Anyone who underestimates the capacity of the NDP to pull themselves together and to be a formidable force in 2013 is underestimating the NDP at their peril. I think they will be a very strong and reunited organization by the time we get to 2013."

It's a dramatic time in B.C. politics with both parties making major changes, he said.


Earlier this morning I informed the Provincial Secretary of the NDP and our Caucus Chair that I will be stepping down as Leader of the Opposition and of the New Democrats.

I'll be stepping down pending the election of an interim leader. That decision will be made in the New Year.

This hasn't been an easy decision, as I'm sure you can imagine. But it's been a decision that I've made in the best interests of the party.

Most importantly, it's been made in the best interests of British Columbians, who expect and deserve a functioning Opposition.

They're not getting that right now in this province.

Over the last two months, we've seen some members of our caucus decide to use their time and energy in-fighting instead of working on behalf of British Columbians.

I and many others have made efforts to try and resolve this issue. We've reached out; we've tried to get people back to work.

I sent a message... our party's governing body sent a very clear message.

But the in-fighting continues. I've spent my entire life working at building things, not complaining and taking them apart.

And right now, at this point in time, my time and energy as leader is consumed with the in-fighting. And that's not right.

It's not productive, it's not useful and most importantly, it's not serving the people of British Columbia.

Fighting amongst ourselves is not what we were elected to do.

It's been just over seven years since I was first elected leader of the New Democrats.

That point of history in our party was an incredibly exciting and an incredibly challenging time to come into provincial politics.

We had two seats in the Legislature.

There certainly wasn't any public belief that our party could rebuild, re-organize or come back.

I ran for leader when there were few people in this province who believed in our party.

But I did.

I ran because I had a deep belief in our party, a deep belief in public service, and most importantly, a deep belief in this province and the people of this province.

I've always believed that more is accomplished by working together than continuing the old divides.

I've always believed that you don't complain about things, you get in there and you do something about making change.

I ran because I wanted to contribute to a new progressive vision for our party.

And I'm proud of the work that I've done... that our party has done.

From two seats, to three seats, to 35 seats.

I'm proud of the fact that we offered a progressive, modern vision for New Democrats.

I'm incredibly proud of the work we did in standing up for at-risk children.

Bringing back an independent Children's Commissioner once again in this province.

I'm proud of the work that we did standing up for people who don't have a voice under the B.C. Liberals.

People with disabilities. Children and families living in poverty.

I'm also incredibly proud of the work that we've done over the last number of months reaching out to British Columbians through dialogue, to talk about the things that we have in common in this province -- not the differences.

When I first began that work, I was told that I couldn't do that in British Columbia, that the traditional divides were too great in this province.

Well I'm proud to say that we brought together people from all over British Columbia with diverse views, who came together to say we do have commonalities; there are things we agree on in this province and we want to move ahead on them.

That work, I believe, put us on a course to government... and is work that must continue in our party.

But those accomplishments and the work we've done are a stark contrast to the last two months.

I have always believed in putting the common good ahead of personal gain.

That's been my family's hallmark, that's been my genetic makeup, it's been the work I've done my entire life.

It is time for all caucus members to find a way to unite to serve British Columbians.

There have been some in our caucus have used me as an excuse to keep from doing that work.

Well, I won't let that happen.

The work has to get done on behalf of the people of British Columbia. And I will not participate in slowing down that work.

And if I've become the excuse for some people to not get that work done, then it's time for me to move on so the work does get done.

New Democrats have an incredibly proud history of putting people first.

Whether it's the Agricultural Land Reserve, public auto insurance, protecting parks, care for seniors... we have an incredibly proud legacy.

And I have been so honoured to serve as leader of this party.

I have been incredibly humbled by the volunteers, the members, past and present leaders, MLAs... the people who make up our party are extraordinary.

And I had an amazing gift of being reminded every single day... of this extraordinary province we live in.

I've visited communities, and talked to people who've shared their passion with me.

And I've also spent time with the real heroes in British Columbia.

Families who struggle to better themselves and look after their children.

The workers of British Columbia: the health care providers, teachers, paramedics, childcare workers, firefighters...

I've had the honour to work with not-for-profit organizations, who toil away in communities -- often without any recognition -- that do the real work that keeps our communities going.

I've met with immigrants, who I believe are some of the bravest people in our province -- who come to this province often without language skills -- to share their abilities with all of us.

I've met with the business leaders and entrepreneurs who keep our economy going with their investments and their hard work.

And I've had an opportunity to spend time in First Nations and Aboriginal communities, which I have to tell you are the most resilient, warm and welcoming places I have ever spent time.

I've loved this job. It's been such an honour to serve the people of this province.

I couldn't have done this job without the support of my family.

My husband Al, my children Alison and Evan, their spouses, Bronwyn and Chris, Hayden, my mum and dad... my family and my friends.

They've been incredibly patient while I've worked through anniversaries and birthdays... while I've worked through family members' cancer, my own personal cancer.

They deserve huge appreciation for what they've given to this party and the province.

And finally, the people of Victoria-Beacon Hill.

It's such an honour to represent the community I grew up in, that I raised my children in... the community I've spent most of my life in. I have such a deep connection and support from the people here.

And I am looking forward to continuing to serve them as the MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill and having a chance to spend time with the extraordinary people in this community.

It's been an amazing journey... an incredible rollercoaster ride.

I'm proud of our party, I'm proud of the people of British Columbia... and I want to end by thanking them, for the opportunity to serve them, for the passion, the time and the energy they've shared with me.

Thank you.

[Editor's note: the following is a visual representation of the words in Carole James' speech. The larger the word, the more times James used it. Click the word to see the context.]


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