Adrian Dix candidacy for leader poses a challenge to some NDP MLAs
For some B.C. NDP MLAs, Carole James was the perfect leader.
She never proposed anything too radical. We didn't hear talk of tax increases, higher fines on corporations, or a major shift in the delivery of health services.
About the most extreme thing she called for was a ban on corporate and union donations, which has already been done at the federal level and in Manitoba and Quebec.
During her seven-year tenure as NDP leader, James generally supported the government's major capital projects. For most of that time, she didn't say much about the province's disgraceful income-assistance policies.
To James's credit, she stood up for kids in government care. But with the exception to her opposition to the carbon tax, she never put NDP MLAs in the awkward position of having to support policies that made them uncomfortable.
This hid the lack of ideological cohesiveness within the B.C. NDP caucus—something that is now coming to light in the party's leadership race.
Three candidates—Nicholas Simons, Dana Larsen, and Adrian Dix—have started raising controversial ideas.
Simons has laid out a detailed poverty-reduction strategy, which includes a $12 minimum wage by 2012. He wants to build 1,000 social housing units a year, restore legal-aid funding to the 2001 level, and increase basic income-assistance rates so that recipients can purchase essential goods.
Larsen has promised to work toward the decriminalization of the sex trade, even though the laws are created by the federal government. He says he would "defund the police enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration of offences related to the sex trade".
Larsen also doesn't want B.C. taxpayers covering the costs of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's prison-spending spree.
Dix, who possibly has the best chance of being elected, has called for rolling back corporate-tax cuts, eliminating the harmonized sales tax, and banning cosmetic pesticides.
This makes Simons, Larsen, and Dix targets for conservative editorial writers at B.C.'s daily papers.
The other two leadership candidates, Mike Farnworth and John Horgan, are more middle-of-the-road politicians.
With the exception of Horgan's support for a carbon tax, there aren't any policy positions on Horgan's or Farnworth's websites that would pose any serious challenges for most NDP MLAs or to the province's mainstream media commentators.
Most people believe that Dix is likely to emerge with more support after the first ballot than either Simons or Larsen. And if Dix wins the leadership race with the help of the other two (who might try to extract a policy pledge in return for their support), more conservative NDP MLAs, including Farnworth and Horgan, are going to have to make some hard decisions.
Will they back their leader even when he promotes policies that go against the wishes of the business community and their media supporters?
Or will Farnworth, Horgan, and others decide to walk away from politics for a while, and possibly bide their time in case Dix falters—at which point they can step back into the spotlight and promise "pragmatic" leadership for the future?
We saw what happened when the B.C. NDP took a right turn under James. A baker's dozen in the caucus decided that they could no longer support her.
Time will tell if the same lack of ideological cohesion will be on display if Dix wins the leadership race and promises to jack up corporate taxes.