Jenny Kwan doesn't want to become NDP leader, so who will it be?
Earlier today (December 1), Vancouver-Mount Pleasant NDP MLA Jenny Kwan had an ambiguous response about whether she wants to become the party's leader.
When asked by the Straight's Carlito Pablo if she wanted to put her name forward, she replied, “Right now that’s not my top priority. What I would like to see is [the NDP] to have a leadership convention.”
But in a live interview on CBC Radio later today, Kwan ruled out any desire to replace Carole James, even though Kwan is by far the longest serving member of caucus.
So who does Kwan want to lead the party? And which potential leader might gain the support of NDP MLAs who've refused to endorse James?
Don't kid yourself. Kwan's blistering letter about James's leadership, which was released today, didn't happen spontaneously.
A veteran politician doesn't publicly declare that the leader has altered caucus decisions—or that individual MLAs have been marginalized—without an endgame in mind.
There's no doubt that she consulted with others before doing this.
Kwan doesn't only want to take out the leader. Her message to the media today was also designed to torpedo the party president, Moe Sihota, who, like James, supports moving the NDP into the mushy middle of the political spectrum.
And Kwan is betting that party members are on her side. By calling for full, one-member one-vote leadership convention, she has forced James's hand.
If James refuses this demand, she will have effectively denied NDP members a chance to choose their leader before the next provincial campaign. That's because the next B.C. Liberal leader will be in a hurry to call a snap election—possibly by next spring—before James can be replaced.
One-member one-vote also means no special deals for organized labour in choosing a leader. In Kwan's world, someone like B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair—who has publicly backed James—would have no more influence than a grandmother holding a party card living in Atlin.
Predictably, two of James's key lieutenants, John Horgan and Bruce Ralston, jumped into the fray, publicly eviscerating Kwan. Horgan went so far as to call her actions "childish".
Other James supporters, such as Mike Farnworth and Adrian Dix, didn't get personal, but reiterated their support for the leader.
Tomorrow, there's a good chance that James will kick Kwan out of caucus. This will reinforce Kwan's central point that James has an undemocratic streak.
Kwan has a lot of goodwill to draw upon from party members. She and Joy MacPhail worked tirelessly to hold the Gordon Campbell government accountable after the 2001 election. If James punts her, Kwan will be seen as a martyr by many members, no matter what the party's high-profile MLAs might say to condemn her.
Other MLAs who want to remove James as leader have two options.
They could individually release letters, perhaps once a week, calling for a leadership convention, thereby forcing James to throw them out of caucus. Or they could walk out en masse as soon as Kwan is turfed.
I'm betting it's the latter, because they're running out of time. James would face incredible pressure to resign if Nicholas Simons, Norm Macdonald, Katrine Conroy, Harry Lali, Claire Trevena, Leonard Krog, Lana Popham, and possibly a few more decided to sit as independents.
If James stubbornly stays in the face of this, New Democrats across the province will start cancelling their memberships. Party donations would dwindle. And the B.C. NDP would be at a distinct disadvantage if an election were to be called in the spring.
The plot to dump the leader was probably hatched quite some time ago by insiders who've been unimpressed by James's do-nothing style. The problem for the dissidents is that there are several caucus members—among them James's closest supporters—who share her centrist ideological disposition and cautious approach. They are loathe to bring about significant change if they form government.
The James gang is not likely to force significant rollbacks in tuition, transform social assistance to put a major dent in child poverty, sharply increase legal aid, fix the Lower Mainland transit system, or put human rights on the front burner—and increase taxes to make this a reality.
Politicians like Kwan, Lali, and Krog, on the other hand, are more inclined to feel that government can be an agent of change to help level the playing field between the powerful and the powerless.
The next B.C. NDP leader will have to be someone who can appeal to both groups if there's going to be party unity.
It may have to be someone who is seen as a James loyalist, but who can also command the respect of the dissidents.
It's unlikely to be Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, who would be opposed by the James gang, even though some of the dissidents like him. It's probably not Farnworth, the NDP house leader, who would be opposed by Kwan and Company.
The best bet is likely Dix, whose progressive politics will appeal to the dissidents, but whose loyalty to the leader won't alienate James's supporters. He would also have the backing of many labour leaders.
The only remaining question is if he wants the job. And as a professed James loyalist, Dix won't provide an answer until his leader resigns. And that might not come until after the next election.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.