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.