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.

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Dec 1, 2010 at 11:48pm

Please Carole hang in there. I want to see Christy mop the floor with you and then you'll get the boot as opposition leader.

Ken Lawson

Dec 2, 2010 at 12:05am

Just draw some names from a hat, they are not going to get elected and neither are some Liberals, I wonder who is out waiting to pounce, no it is not Eliz May!

Kevin L

Dec 2, 2010 at 4:02am

Interesting musing Charlie.

However your close is stunningly weak.

If like you say the party is torn apart the loyalists wont wait till after an election.

You would hope.

Another Liberal term based on no alternative is not an option.


Dec 2, 2010 at 7:02am

I am not sure where this idea that the dissenters are the left wing of the party comes from, but it's not true. The dissenters do not have a unified indeology or policy platform- they are not even united. This is the boiling over of years of disappointment with the current leadership, dating back at least as far as the carbon tax waffle, and exacerbated by an undemocratic leadership.
James would like people to believe that these are radicals out to move the party left, since that would help her fight off this challenge. But who really thinks Bob Simpson is far left? Until Kwan came out he was the lightning rod here, and he's a former forest company executive. Hardly a radical.
I hope this is a rejuventating process for the party, but I fear it could get personal. Since there's no way that James can credibly lead the party into the next election at this point, her best option is to find a new leader she can support and work to get him or her elected as her replacement.

David L.

Dec 2, 2010 at 8:01am

A BIG MESS to say the least !


Dec 2, 2010 at 10:16am

The "James Gang"? Really, Charlie, your prejudice is really showing? And what role do you assign Jenny Kwan? Bob Ford?

Matt T

Dec 2, 2010 at 1:46pm

TomJoad wrote
"I am not sure where this idea that the dissenters are the left wing of the party comes from, but it's not true"

How's your ghost, by the way ? :)

A little disingenous, but that may not be intentional on your part.

The left wing of the party, the 10% that are essentially communists without the guts to declare themselves as such, align themselves with any challenge to the perceived controlllers of the party. Sad that modern Canadian poltiics still has to deal with juvenile entryist strategies from IS cowards that wont run under their own banner because they know what would happen to them in an election.

They are doing so now. If you are familiar with that wing of the party, look for their names to show up wherever the rebels are. Its already happening on Facebook and Twitter. A certain irony, becasue for years, they have been trying to "Take Back The Party" (which was never theirs to begin with and CS couldnt wait to popularize as legitimate) and have so far achieved to nothing. Now, they will hitch their wagon to people still not "left enough" for them.

As far as undemocratic leadership, well, that may be the case in caucus, but you cant circumvent the rules that were all previously agreed to, including the rebels, because you arent happy with the last vote and dont want to wait your turn, which would be fall 2011. An MLA unhappy in caucus can resign, cross the floor, sit as an independent, but they dont have any right to immolate the party as they do so.

All 13 of the MLA's dont even have the expressed support of their ridings, at this poing, only 7 of the 13 do. What about the democratic rights of those ridings exec, and the members that elected them. Out the window too ?

I am not a James loyalist, and likely wouldnt vote for her tomorrow to stay as leader, but in the face of a palace coup that befits a banana republic, the duly elected leader, no matter how unpopular or misguided, gets my vote.

Lets say the rebels "win". What next ? James loyalists run to the media, cry undemocratic, and we get to do this all over again and again and again. Since the rebels dont need to follow the Constitution, why should anyone else ?

What I find sad and pathetic is that many of the party's left wing currently lining up behind the rebels out of convenience fight harder to protect leaders of foreign nations against an action that they will support against their own leader, all in the name of "democracy". When this happened in Venezuela and Honduras, it was antidemocratic because they liked the leader. It isnt in BC because they dont ? Where do we put the goalposts ?

Like the leader or not, when you feel the rules dont apply to you because you dont like the result, its mob rule, and the party is better of losing with James than destroying itself without, becasue the BCNDP will not get another mulligan from the people of BC.

Charlie, I like a lot of your writing, but like too many "middle class Marxists" that are too far removed from retail politics, you are missing the point here. It isnt about love for Carole for many of us, its about not destroying the BCNDP because a minority of caucus cant wait 11 months for due process.


Dec 2, 2010 at 2:11pm

There is more than one way to renew a party. I say purge the NDP of the rogue element and get on with developing a winning platform and campaign strategy. That would include finding strong articulate candidates to represent the NDP in the ridings of this feckless lot.

Let the bloodletting begin!

Dec 2, 2010 at 2:46pm

The only NDP member who could be a good leader is Dix. But since Harcourt, the NDP has chosen to go 3rd Way, with the Clintons, Blairs, Obama's of the world. Choosing a bright, strategic leader like Dix can't change the fact that the NDP long ago sold out any hope for a qualitatively different type of politics. NDPers: Abandon Hope, quit, get involved in politics, not electoral games, the leaders change, the policies remain identical, within each party and among the different corporate parties. (Many of the BC Liberal's worst policies began under the earlier NDP Regimes).

In the meantime, I for one will enjoy the spectacle of a bunch of liberals going after each other's throats!

glen p robbins

Dec 2, 2010 at 6:24pm

Corky Evans (Kootenay) vs. George Abbott (Shuswap) = 64.5% voter turnout in the next provincial election - with proper investigation and discussion of the north and interior of the province of BC-- resource, environmental - economic future.

It's Corky Evans the dissidents want.