Looking at British Columbia’s first post-putsch polling, SFU political scientist and rock musician Kennedy Stewart asked:
Can a spring snap election be far away?
I suspect many believe that the next BC provincial election is May 14, 2013. It might be, but only if an election has not been called earlier. The new Liberal leader can ask for a vote at any time because the Constitution Act contains this provision:
23(1) The Lieutenant Governor may, by proclamation in Her Majesty’s name, prorogue or dissolve the Legislative Assembly when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.
Dr. Stewart looked at the early bounce from Campbell’s removal and expects Liberal renewal in the polls may continue, leading to an early election. While Campbell was substantially less popular than the party he led, Carole James rating has been similar to that of the NDP. That indicates Liberals will gain more than the NDP from a leadership change. Looking at Mustel surveys since June 2008, Stewart says:
These polls show, when the +/-4.4 margin of error is taken into account, James polled ahead [of the] party 4 times or in a statistical tie with the party (five times) in nine of eleven polls.
Mustel polls indicate that James popularity was on a gentle upward rise during spring and summer while her party’s fortunes were dipping slowly. Angus Reid’s poll, taken December 7 & 8, after both leaders had announced resignation, determined that continued support from previous Liberal voters improved while the NDP retention rate declined 11%, to a level on-par with their main opponent.
In July, NDP led Liberals 48% to 20% among decided and leaning female voters but led the December poll by only six points. The shift indicates that women may blame opposition to gender parity for Carole James’ trouble. Shrinkage of the margin to less than a quarter indicates the party has deeply offended a demographic usually among its best supporters.
Mario Canseco of Angus Reid notes:
The two parties begin their respective rebuilding processes with their core support practically intact, and with the knowledge that one-in-seven British Columbians are planning to stick with them no matter what. The race is on to capture the half of the electorate that is waiting for ideas, policies and new faces, after 17 years of Campbell and seven years of James.
Perhaps Canseco’s most important opinion on this matter is:
The recent leadership discussions in the two main parties have clearly benefitted the BC Liberals.
Liberal support is likely to be augmented by the leadership campaign, which will focus on the future, shifting blame for mistakes to the retiring Premier. At any rate, there is not a major underlying Liberal schism as there is between New Democrats.
An upward bounce from the leadership contest will encourage Liberals to call an early election. If there is no spring vote as predicted by Dr. Stewart, the new Liberal leader would likely seek a “personal mandate” in autumn. That would respond to general calls for a regular fall election day to enable debate of the current year’s budget and review of the prior year’s public accounts. That likely means a campaign beginning Labour Day with voting on October 11.
Will the NDP still be shooting inward? Probably, because the caucus rebels that overthrew Carole James avoided constitutional remedies to resolve issues. For example, they alleged Moe Sihota should not have been contracted without consent of caucus. Yet, the NDP constitution makes the leader subject only to Convention and Provincial Council with the Executive charged with administration and supervision of the President. There is no role for caucus, despite their implied claims. From the NDP Constitution:
13.02 It shall be a specific responsibility of the Provincial Executive to oversee the administration of the Party and to supervise the work of the President, Secretary and Treasurer.
13.12 The Table Officers shall deal with administrative matters and matters of clear emergency. Minutes of Table Officers’ meetings will be provided to the Executive and the Table Officers will be responsible to the Executive.
13.13 The Executive will administer matters of political and strategic importance to the Party and will ratify and oversee the decisions of the Table Officers. The Executive shall be responsible to Provincial Council. The Minutes of the Provincial Executive meetings shall be distributed in a timely manner to the Provincial Council.
13.14 The Provincial Council shall deal with all matters of Party policy between Conventions. The Council will ratify and oversee actions of the Executive and Table Officers.
The caucus also has no role in financial matters of the party, such as the President’s salary. That is left to the Executive with that body overseen by The Oversight Committee under Section 14:
14.07 The Oversight Committee shall examine all financial records, Council, Executive and Table Officer meeting minutes and other relevant documents at least quarterly. The material examined shall include appropriate records of subsidiary organizations. The Oversight Committee shall determine whether bodies of the Party are acting in accordance with Party Constitution, policy and directives of senior Party bodies. Additionally, the Oversight Committee shall have the right to determine whether receipts are properly recorded and that expenditures have been authorized by the Party Convention, Council and Executive, Table Officers or other appropriate authority.
The NDP’s governing rules, available online to anyone, give power to the membership in convention, gatherings which are at least bi-annual while in opposition and annual when the party forms government. The Provincial Council is fully charged with party administration between conventions and the Leader is assigned responsibility for political matters:
11.01 The Provincial Leader shall be the chief political spokesperson of the Party and, subject to the authority of the Convention and the Provincial Council, shall interpret to the public the policies of the Party
The revolt against James was a powerplay by party operatives and a minority of caucus, an undemocratic coup that disregarded the party’s constitution, actions so injurious to an egalitarian organization that full recovery will take time. How can the next leader or the membership feel comfortable when consent to a common set of rules is lacking? Never did NDP members contemplate a small caucus group selecting or rejecting the elected leader and publicly slamming the Executive and Provincial Council. There is no uncertainty about that issue.
If caucus members objected to Sihota payments, they should have referred the matter to the Oversight Committee. If dissidents had unresolved problems with James, Provincial Council was the authority to consult, not the media. More appropriately, members including caucus should have addressed leadership issues at the 2007 or 2009 conventions and accepted the members’ actions.
Every person has their own opinion about whether or not the party will be helped or harmed by the replacement of Carole James by a person to be named later. Polls indicate that the only person with sufficient name recognition and public approval to assume leadership quickly is NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth. However, since he worked closely with Carol James, we can assume that the dissident group may not accept Farnworth’s candidacy. Perhaps Bob Williams or Bill Tieleman will step forward to claim the leadership or appoint someone to that position.