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  • Volume Eight, Number Eight: December 2003

    James takes top NDP job                                                   

    Ian King

    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 organized labour.

    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 provincial economy.

    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 December.”

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