Ex-MLA Bob Williams calls for Carole James to resign as B.C. NDP leader

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      A former senior B.C. NDP cabinet minister says he has “reluctantly” come to the conclusion that Carole James must step down as party leader. In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Bob Williams said that 49 percent of registered voters in B.C. essentially voted for “none of the above” when they didn’t turn out in the last provincial election.

      “I’m sorry, but Ms. James has not shown a real capacity around the economy, and that’s a serious problem,” he said. “It’s a very serious problem.”

      Williams was the NDP MLA for Vancouver East at different times between 1966 and 1991. As the resources minister from 1972 to 1975, he was the most influential cabinet member in the NDP government headed by Dave Barrett.

      Williams, a director and former chair of Vancity, maintained that B.C. Hydro should have been a major issue in the last election. He added that it should also be front-and-centre in the next provincial campaign.

      “Public power is an iconic issue in this province, just like the salmon are,” he claimed. “Good politicians would be effective communicators around the nature of public power and the benefit of public power. I’m sorry, but Carole wasn’t able to convey that in terms of really understanding the implications of selling off our rivers to a kind of casino capitalism that almost brought the world into a major depression a couple of years ago. So the communication problem is serious, and people do expect a capacity on the economic side.”

      He stated that James has done a good job on social-justice issues. “Everybody expects that of NDP politicians,” Williams added, “but there has to be a handle on the economic side.”

      Williams, who has also chaired ICBC, said there is no “obvious replacement” for James, who has lost two consecutive elections to the B.C. Liberals under Premier Gordon Campbell. “That’s what contests are about: to show us who the obvious replacement is,” the former NDP politician said. “That would be healthy for everybody. The membership of the party has gone down, down, down, and that’s the way to get it back up. But it’s also important to have something to vote for. Forestry is in shambles in this province. Where are our ideas for forestry?”

      He also alleged that the B.C. NDP has not held Campbell and the B.C. Liberals accountable for mismanaging the economy. “Every time I go over the Georgia Viaduct and look at that [B.C. Place] roof that is being built for $500 million for, again, their casino cronies, it’s disgusting,” Williams said. “And to say that he [Campbell] is somebody who knows how to manage the economy of British Columbia? Obviously not.”

      In addition, Williams claimed that Campbell didn’t know the difference between spending and investing during his first term as premier, so he stopped doing both. “In his second term, he did too much of both, so we were on a roller-coaster ride from this guy who is supposed to understand the economy,” Williams added. “But we [the NDP] didn’t put a hand on him.”

      He also said that it was “extraordinary” that James tossed Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson out of caucus without even holding a caucus meeting. “That’s unheard-of, absolutely unheard-of,” Williams, a former long-time NDP caucus chair, said. He described Simpson’s comments about James on a Williams Lake website as “so modest”, suggesting his ejection wasn’t justified.

      Meanwhile, Simpson told the Straight by phone that he worries the B.C. NDP is “becoming irrelevant” in the lives of British Columbians. “The feedback that I’m getting since this event has occurred is there is a huge appetite for fundamental change in the NDP,” he said. “That is what I’m going to focus on. I’m not interested in shifting parties.”

      Simpson also praised Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, a former NDP MLA, noting that they became friends in caucus between 2005 and 2008. Simpson spoke highly of Robertson’s ability to work with a team, which he said sets him apart from some recent B.C. premiers, including Campbell. Simpson also gave Robertson credit for taking risks rather than being a status quo politician, and commended his ability to appeal to businesspeople and those with concerns about the environment.

      “The small- and medium-size business understanding and legitimacy, that green legitimacy, that ability to drive a vision—all of those character traits, I think, would do us well,” Simpson said. “If there is a woman with those character traits, if there is a younger person with those character traits, that’s a way I think we can drive genuine debate, revitalize the party, talk to the Greens differently, talk to small- and medium-size business, and end up winning the election with some legitimacy.”

      Simpson acknowledged that he has spoken in the past with Robertson about his future aspirations. “My sense is that Gregor is fully committed to and fully focused on the City of Vancouver just now,” the Cariboo North MLA said. “And the timing for the next provincial election [May 2013] doesn’t work in terms of him fulfilling his mandate. But Gregor has to speak for himself as to whether he’s going to jump in. In terms of character traits, in terms of vision, in terms of”¦the ability to drive an agenda, that’s the kind of leader that’s needed.”

      Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.

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      Oct 14, 2010 at 9:38am

      I have always regarded Bob Williams as one of the brightest people the NDP has produced, though I don't agree with his assessment that Carole James should resign and am a bit mystified by his description of Gordon Campbell's macro policies.

      Many provincial and local public works are not managed in a way that allows them to be timed to fit the needs of the business cycle. Unless governments are prepared to be serious about going back to the post-war Keynesian practice of having a stack of projects "on the shelf" that can be put into action in a downturn, I don't see how they can arrange their share of aggregate demand in a counter-cyclical manner.

      In 2008 and 2009 when there was a need to do find "shovel ready" work, local and provincial governments struggled to find incremental projects, and some may now miss the deadline for March 31st completion with uncertain consequences for their federal funding.

      I think it's worth remembering that the conventional wisdom in the BC commercial mass media has always been that Bob WIlliams was on the far left of the NDP, a major thorn in the side of business. I am sure it will be greeted by yahoo Liberal/PAB bloggers as a gift that Williams is commenting on the economic stance the NDP should take.

      Bob Simpson makes positive note of Gregor Robertson's "appeal to businesspeople ", without quite saying that Robertson is a multi-millionaire businessman. Strange, isn't it? When Carole James speaks to a business audience, Tieleman mercilessly trashes her. Yet the solution is to elect as leader a businessman, and get rid of Moe Sihota as party president because he's now in business.

      Is it fair to ask, "How does this game work, Bill?"

      Rod Smelser

      glen p robbins

      Oct 14, 2010 at 10:07am

      Left or Right - I think in terms of understanding governance and systems, Bob Williams is a pretty capable and experienced fellow.

      I have been an entrepreneur all of my life, frankly I agree, let business do business and stay away from government policy.

      I never believed Campbell was a steady hand on economics - he was NEVER compelled to stay put and hold his ground on any discussion - his entire time in provincial politics was make a statement and get out of dodge - let time pass - and so on.

      It is of paramount importance that British Columbia leadership move past rhetorical themes - sound bytes etc and potential new leaders get their hands in the soil so to speak - its what the people are looking for.

      Campbell is hopefully the end of plastic politics in BC - and it appears he may be taking Ms. James with him.

      Pretty Frogs

      Oct 14, 2010 at 10:41am

      Just disregard all of the severely illegal hate speach; against Carol James by the BC Liberals and NeoGoons' bloggers.. We need to eliminate illegal voters and essentially; our hard earned $$ from flying out of our Country!

      Carol James is SOLID ~ and has a fantastic team behind her ~ it is wildly insane to suggest anything else..


      Just vote for party mandate; and the rest can take care of itself.



      Oct 14, 2010 at 10:42am

      There's one additional point I forgot.

      People in the NDP who want James to quit aren't afraid she's going to lose in 2013, ... they're terrified she's going to win. And once in office, decline to spin the wheel of fortune for the boys.

      Rod Smelser

      glen p robbins

      Oct 14, 2010 at 12:23pm

      Rod - respectfully I believe there are far more arguments that can be made in keeping Carole James than impeaching her leadership, however I expect that there are some who are concerned that when Campbell goes - and he will go - that once that vacuum is filled - Carole may become yesterday's leader over night.

      There are strategic not personal political implications at play in this discussion that are not entirely in Carole's control. As one NDP voter told me out of the blue - "I thought she was just staying until Campbell was gone".

      Out of the mouth of babes eh?

      Ray I

      Oct 14, 2010 at 12:27pm

      Bob Williams talking about understanding the economy? Now that's rich! He was the Minister that brought in the "Super Royalty" on mining in BC under Dave Barrett. Know what happened? Almost every single mining operation and explorations activity shut down and left BC. The damage to our 3rd biggest industry at the time took DECADES to repair. This jackass should not be listened to when it comes to what is good for BC's economy! Regarding Carol James? Anyone with half a brain can tell she is an incompetent politician so I recommend the NDP keep her!

      Brave Scot

      Oct 14, 2010 at 1:03pm

      Bob Williams has one of the most brilliant minds in recent BC politics. He has matched it with political courage of a sort rarely seen. The case he has made -- has always made -- for economic diversification is essential to our future. The case he makes for retaining BC Hydro is fundamental.

      Williams used the fact of ICBC, and the imagination of architect Bing Thom, to create the iconic Central City complex in Surrey. Gordon Campbell tried to destroy it, but Williams outfoxed him. Today, Central City is the heart of a new downtown core for Surrey. Williams, as Chair of ICBC, made it happen.

      His concerns about Carole James' economic leadership must be taken seriously. The NDP is not entitled to coast to victory just because the Liberals are so widely loathed. The NDP must also earn the right to govern in its own name.

      This will only happen when its leadership accepts the challenge. Campbell has shown us what NOT to do, and how not to do it. He has failed in office.

      Williams argues that the NDP, the party to which he has devoted his life, needs a vastly stronger sense of forward motion. It's absent today.

      Remember one more thing about vision. When a Minister, Williams articulated a powerful view about the preservation of farmland in BC. He was relentless. Together with Barrett, Stupich and Steves, he succeeded. Today, 35 years later, the ALR is one of our triumphs of good public and economic policy. Even the trogs in the mining industry dare not attack it.

      I have never agreed with everything Williams has said, but I know he's one very smart guy. The NDP should be smart enough to listen to him.

      Taxpayers R Us

      Oct 14, 2010 at 1:05pm

      James has seriously got to go if the NDP wants any chance of winning any election. She has been completely useless as leader of the opposition, she has lost 2 elections so far, and despite Campbell's Liberals being on their knees, there's still a very healthy chance that the NDP won't be able to win under James.

      james green

      Oct 14, 2010 at 3:17pm

      Williams like Dave Barrett held onto power for one term if ancient history serves me right. Not a good record.
      These tired old pols should stay in retirement and do the work outside of politics they have choosen.
      It would be death to the party's election changes should they have a leadership change now.
      To Bob Williams: Call James, offer your financial management and policy expertise and form a group of economic advisors with her and help her become the economic giant you claim to be and likely are. You gotta be good for something.

      james-simpson division reflects BC conflicts

      Oct 14, 2010 at 5:56pm

      Carole James is NDP leader, but also Aboriginal - and she listens to First Nations voices telling her quite clearly that the Prosperity Mine killing Fish Lake is TOTALLY unacceptable. Full stop! Whereas Simpson is actually in favour of the development but weakly says that maybe there are options around the mine. NO - First Nations people will accept nothing less than an absolute end to such destruction of traditional territories. If it means less industrial jobs in rural areas of BC, so be it. Too many high-paid, unstable mine jobs just lead to unsustainable communities and social issues.