An elder statesman of the B.C. NDP has put a decidedly new wrinkle on the dispute within the party's caucus.
In an open letter, former cabinet minister Corky Evans writes that a group of NDP MLAs concluded a few weeks ago that it was necessary to hold a leadership convention.
They signed a letter, and a small group met with James to convey their concerns.
"Both the letter and the meeting were private," Evans notes in the letter. "It was assumed that they would always remain private, because that is the way it has always been done."
He points out that this has occurred numerous times in the past in his party. Evans writes that MLAs have signed letters in confidence or met in confidence with other leaders—including Bob Skelly, Mike Harcourt, and Glen Clark—to suggest they should resign.
Evans states that in keeping with historical tradition, James had the "absolute right to consider their intervention and decide to take their advice or reject it".
But Evans claims that unlike every other leader who has been approached in confidence in this manner, James "chose to respond in a different, and utterly unpredictable manner".
"She advised others in her Caucus and staff what had happened and named the MLA's who had come, in confidence, to see her and then proceeded to turn the upcoming Provincial Council meeting into an opportunity to divide the signatories of the letter, and their supporters, from the rest of the Party," Evans writes.
Then James and her supporters decided to expose those who signed the letter at the Provincial Council meeting in Victoria on November 20.
"As we walked into the hotel the morning of the Provincial Council meeting, staff members stood in the hallway outside the meeting room and gave yellow scarves to everyone EXCEPT the folks they knew had signed or delivered the letter, and a few of the rest of us they figured might support the 13 signatories," Evans maintains. "The result was surreal."
He claims it was "the most divisive thing I have ever witnessed" in the NDP.
"The MLA's who had NOT signed the letter asking Carol [sic] to resign were identified, in front of their peers and the Press, as Loyal and Good," Evans notes. "Thus, the folks WITHOUT the yellow scarves were immediately and publically [sic] identified as Disloyal and Bad."
He claims that everyone involved in signing the letter intended their message to remain private except for James.
"The [provincial council] meeting opened, as they all do, with a reading of the Parties Harassment Policy," Evans writes. "If I,or any of us, had our wits about us, we would have responded by pointing out that the scarves, themselves, constituted Harassment of the worst kind. I am sorry to say that this appropriate response didn't occur to me until some days later."
He also claims that James did something he had never heard of before—which was "to publicize and castigate MLA's who, rightly or wrongly, thought they were acting in confidence and in the best interests of their Party".
"She could have told them they were wrong and stayed in her job," the letter reads. "This has been done before in parliamentary democracies, probably hundreds of times."
He adds that James could have accepted the advice and stepped down as leader, perhaps remaining as an MLA.
"That, too, has happened before, probably hundreds of times," Evans writes. "Instead, she chose to do something I have never heard of before...and publically [sic] attacked those who came to her in confidence."
He also takes exception to NDP president Moe Sihota's ruling that it was unconstitutional to bring forward motions to urge the leader to reinstate MLA Bob Simpson into caucus.
"This change to the agenda was simply wrong," Evans claims. "Nobody in the room had wanted to 'instruct' the Leader how to do her job. The motion simply said the Leader be 'urged' to reinstate Bob Simpson. The party has the right to 'urge' the Leader to do anything they want. We could 'urge' the Leader to stand on her head for an hour a day if we wanted, and she has the perfect right to ignore the advice..."
Evans concludes his letter by saying the real issue is about "the democratization, or not, of how we do politics". He adds that this problem isn't limited to the NDP, noting that similar concerns have been expressed recently by members of the B.C. Liberals, the federal Liberals, and the Alberta Conservatives.
"As a new Democrat, I am heartsick at the troubles and I fervently wish Carol [sic] James had not orchestrated the public division of her Caucus," Evans states in his final paragraph. "As a citizen, I am hopeful that the democratic process in Canada is being reborn. As her friend and supporter, I will go where Jenny Kwan goes, come what may."
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.