Thursday, November 18, 2010

What happens if Carole James becomes premier?

At this time it would seem the most likely situation we will see in BC is an NDP government in 2013 led by Carole James, so what would that mean for politics in BC?

I have no issue with where on the political spectrum Carole James is.   There are commentators out there saying she is a moderate in the party and has pulled the NDP to the right.  I remain skeptical of that claim not because I do not think she is a a moderate but because the party under her leadership in many years has not articulated a clear policy platform for the party.  This is a very relevant question because without a clear and broad policy for government the party comes down to being only a machine to make Carole James premier.

If she gets elected purely because she is not a Liberal and has no clear strategy for government, she is going wear every decision of government.   The NDP will make changes right off the bat and they will piss off someone and it will be Carole James that will be blamed.   She does not have enough personal popularity to be able to suffer much negative press.

So who will be deciding the decisions of an NDP government?  Without a clear agenda before being elected, there is going to be a massive internal struggle in the caucus and cabinet about what direction to go.   The political views of Carole James will only be one voice, admittedly a strong one, within the cabinet.   I fear we will get an NDP government creating policy on the fly based on who can cobble together the support in caucus.

I have met no one that can tell me with a straight face that they think Carole James is up to being premier.  Various people have said the party line, but there is no underlying belief that I can hear in their voices.   What does this come down to?   There does not seem to be the faith that she can set the agenda for government and then get buy in from the MLAs around her.

I remember Bob Skelly in the 1986 provincial election, I was there for that famous press conference he had where he asked to restart.   He is a smart man and I joined the NDP at the time to vote for him the leadership race.   He could not recover from that one bad moment it became the narrative of his election campaign.

Carole James has not had to be in the media spotlight to defend specific issues or decisions in a way that a premier has to, I really wonder if she will be up to it or if she will be have some Skelly moments.   It would only take a couple for her to set the narrative of her government as being incompetent.

Harcourt could deal with this sort of situation as premier because he had been mayor of Vancouver, Glen Clark had experience as a senior cabinet member in dealing with the same media questioning of government direction.  Carole James has not such experience and has shown when there has been something more substantive that she can not communicate well.

The left will expect an NDP government to fulfill their interests and Carole James will be hard pressed to give them much joy.   At the same time she will be inheriting ongoing problems in government with health and social services, ones that keep giving to parties of the left and right.  And finally she will have an opposition on the right that knows more about the government than she does and will quickly be like attack dogs on any missteps from her.  

Gordon Campbell had an easy first term because there were only two New Democrats.   Mike Harcourt had an opposition that was all new to the legislature and had some breathing room.   Carole James will be facing at least 20 Liberals of which many of them are current MLAs and in cabinet.   She will be in a
situation more like Dave Barrett faced in 1972 and she is no Barrett.

So what happens?  A government that sees its popularity fall rather quickly and then demands for some dramatic change, which can only mean calls to have Carole James step down.   If she does not, I wonder if the party will be able to manage any sort of a reasonable result in 2017.

Much can change, the she could step down now, the party could develop a serious action plan for government.   The opposition could utterly collapse and leave her leading an 80 member, or larger, caucus.    There is still a lot of time for change.
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