A sharply critical statement of the leadership of the B.C. NDP could spell the “beginning of the end” for Carole James, according to political scientist Norman Ruff.
“Jenny Kwan is a person of considerable stature within the party,” Ruff told the Straight by phone. “Carole James is in a very difficult position.”
Ruff doesn’t predict Kwan will get the same treatment as MLA Bob Simpson, who was kicked out of caucus on October 6 after he criticized James’ leadership on a Williams Lake website.
“I don’t think there can be a unilateral dismissal of Kwan,” he said.
Ruff said James should bring caucus together and offer to resign in order to get a sense of the level of support among MLAs.
“That will flush out the depth of her support,” he said. “If major spokespeople aren’t running to her support, she has no option but to resign.”
Harry Lali, the MLA for Fraser-Nicola, supported Kwan’s call for a leadership convention, but declined to comment on her criticism of James.
“I’m not interested in saying whether the present leader should go or should stay - I am interested in a leadership convention,” he said. “Whoever the new leader happens to be, I think every New Democrat has to then fall in line, shut up and get on with the job – that can only happen after a leadership convention.”
He said Kwan has become an “icon” in NDP circles in B.C. and that her statement will be noticed among supporters.
“When an NDP icon such as Jenny Kwan speaks out in the way that she did, then New Democrats across the province have to listen,” he said.
Ruff said Kwan’s statement has articulated the “unease” with James’ leadership recently alluded to by other MLAs.
“Up until Simpson’s firing, people were aware that James didn’t have a strong connection with the electorate...but the last few months there seems to be this autocratic style that seems to have emerged more, and this is what really has led to the deep unease with her leadership,” he said.
Ruff said the NDP will need more than a leadership change to re-connect with potential voters.
“It’s become a party that just defines itself as not being the Liberal government and that’s not enough,” said Ruff.
“If they think changing their leader will resolve everything in the party, I think they’re being quite foolish.”
You can follow Yolande Cole on Twitter at twitter.com/yolandecole.