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B.C.'s NDP leader puts her job on the line

NDP Leader Carole James faces internal party dissent over the expulsion of Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson.

Deddeda Stemler For The Globe and Mail/deddeda stemler The Globe and Mail

With Premier Gordon Campbell's B.C. Liberal Party in crisis over his protracted departure, the rival New Democratic Party reached an equal state of disarray with Carole James vowing to put her leadership to a vote on Saturday by her party's governing body.

Seeking to quell a growing caucus revolt, Ms. James accused her critics of selfish, destructive behaviour and said she won't tolerate any more dissent.

"There will be a fundamental choice in front of the party," a visibly angry Ms. James told reporters in her Victoria office on Friday. "Our party has done this before and somebody has to stand up and say enough. That's what I'm doing, I'm saying enough of this in-fighting. We have to grow up as a party."

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Meanwhile, in Vancouver, the B.C. Liberal caucus was still mopping up on Friday after this week's spectacular blowup by MLA Bill Bennett, who was ejected from cabinet on Wednesday for suggesting Mr. Campbell should fast-track his departure as premier.

Mr. Bennett, who called the Premier a bully who is dragging his party into the toilet, was dumped from the caucus on Friday, leaving him to sit as an independent MLA. Ron Cantelon, caucus chair, declared the controversy over.

"We think the deck's been cleared and we're looking forward [to]and excited about a new leader moving forward and discussing issues facing all British Columbians," Mr. Cantelon told reporters.

Mr. Bennett did not attend the meeting and was reportedly en route back to his home in Cranbrook. Prior to the meeting, Mr. Bennett said he expected the Premier would engineer his removal from caucus.

Mr. Campbell announced on Nov. 3 he is stepping down due to the public backlash over his government's harmonized sales tax. On Friday the Mustel Group released a public opinion survey conducted after his announcement, showing the Liberals have benefitted from the decision. The NDP's commanding lead in the polls has shrunk to just a five-point spread.

It's a worrying trend for the NDP, but its weekend meeting will focus on internal matters, including a debate about how party president Moe Sihota is collecting a stipend from organized labour.

The larger show will revolve around Ms. James's leadership. On Friday afternoon, Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy set the stage for the showdown, calling a news conference to announce she has quit as caucus whip.

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Flanked by three other NDP MLAs, Ms. Conroy's news conference was bizarre even by the standards of B.C. politics: The most telling revelations were non-answers. She refused to say if she is quitting over Ms. James's leadership. NDP MLA Jenny Kwan, a senior and influential member of the party, stood by Ms. Conroy and refused, repeatedly, to say if she still supports Ms. James as leader.

What was clearer, however, is that Ms. James's decision to fire Bob Simpson from the caucus six weeks ago for questioning her leadership has created a significant breach in the party. An hour after Ms. Conroy's meeting with reporters, Ms. James was finally compelled to acknowledge that there are a number of MLAs in her 33-member caucus who want a new leader.

"The people of British Columbia are not well-served by this behaviour," Ms. James said. "I believe it is selfish."

Mr. Simpson, in an interview, said Ms. James has simply failed to gain any purchase from the B.C. Liberals' troubles. "Carole James has tried to characterize this as just a few complainers, that's a distortion of reality."

The BC NDP's provincial council meets in Victoria on the weekend - a body made up of MLAs, the party executive and delegates from each of the party's 85 constituency associations - and Ms. James indicated she will quit if she doesn't get strong support.

The test will be a resolution calling for the party to hold a leadership convention in November, 2011. In recent days, party officials have been carefully measuring the depth of Ms. James's support and it is unlikely she would lay down such a challenge if she wasn't confident that she will win the day.

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About the Authors
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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