takes top NDP job
British Columbia’s New Democrats chose a new leader November 23rd to
replace the outgoing Joy MacPhail. Carole James, a former Victoria
school trustee now working in child services with the Carrier-Sekani
Tribal Council, won on the second ballot over former MLA Leonard Krog
and Oak Bay councilor Nils Jensen.
James entered the convention with more committed delegates, but not
enough to guarantee her a win. She brought strong backing from many of
the province’s public-sector unions, MLA Jenny Kwan, and both of B.C.’s
NDP MPs. James styled herself the safe choice for leader, unburdened
with the previous NDP governments’ baggage, but still committed to the
party and its principles.
Krog was considered the front-runner in the early part of the race.
During the convention, though, Krog’s uninspired performance failed to
impress undecided delegates. Contrasting with Krog’s fizzle was
Victoria bookseller Mehdi Najari’s passion. Considered a fringe
candidate, Najari gave a fiery speech calling on the party to
radicalize. For his effort, Najari was rewarded with three standing
ovations and 32 votes, leaving him eliminated on the first ballot.
Dark horse candidate Nils Jensen was the third-place finisher. The Oak
Bay city councillor had joined the party only days before announcing
that he wanted the leadership. Despite his newness to the NDP, Jensen
managed to gain the support of both the USWA and the IWA. Jensen’s
campaign called for an overhaul of the NDP itself. His prescription: a
turn to the political centre, and severing the NDP’s formal ties to
Najari, former MLA Steve Orcherton, and Vancouver lawyer Pete Dimitrov
dropped out after the first leadership ballot. Dimitrov and Orcherton
both pledged support to Krog. On ballot two, James won 395 votes to
take the leadership – only seven votes more than she needed for a bare
majority. Krog received 215 votes, while Jensen lost a handful of votes
to finish with 162.
On his loss, Krog would only say “That’s politics.”
Throughout the convention, James pointed to herself as her strongest
point. In the post-balloting scrum, James stated that “People know my
integrity. They can trust my word.” Similar words could be heard from
James throughout the weekend, both in debates and in her final speech
to the delegates.
James is not well known outside Victoria and the NDP. Her first
challenge, according to former cabinet Minister Paul Ramsey, will be to
become familiar with British Columbia. Ramsey also made the point that
James will have to show that she has a plan to revitalize the
The close leadership result wasn’t the only division in the party.
While there was much debate on the party’s future relationship with
labour, the only resolution that the delegates could pass was one to
strike a committee to study the issue.
The 2003 convention will also be the last one where the B.C. NDP elects
its leader at a delegated party convention. By a strong majority, the
party delegates agreed to institute a “one member, one vote” leadership
election process to select the party’s next leader.
Despite her record as school trustee and former head of the B.C. school
trustees’ association, James has no provincial political experience. In
the 2001 general election, she narrowly lost in Victoria-Hillside to
Liberal Jeff Bray by 35 votes.
James will not immediately seek a seat in the legislature. She was
noncommittal on where she would run in the 2005 election. Follwing her
election as leader, James said, “I now own a house in Prince George…
but my roots are in Victoria. I’ll make a decision by the end of