Well, so much for the “Democratic” in the New Democratic Party! Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson was politically hauled in, drawn and quartered , his remains expelled in the middle of the night from the NDP caucus, for daring to criticise the content--or lack of content--in a SPEECH by party leader Carole James.
Judging by the massive over-reaction by James, you would have thought Simpson had made his own major speech atop a soap box in the public square calling for the NDP leader’s overthrow or a march by the party masses on the legislature or party headquarters to demand her resignation.
He did no such thing.
What Simpson did was publish, in his regular MLA commentary on his own website and the Welcome to Williams Lake website, a critique of all the speeches by various political leaders to the Union of BC Municipalities convention a few days earlier. He castigated the speeches of Premier Gordon Campbell, Stockwell Day, and said the most courageous speech came from Green Party Leader Jane Sterk. And then had this to say about the talk delivered by his own leader:
The Leader of the Opposition likewise had little concrete to offer the delegates other than a commitment to be more consultative than the current government and a promise to explore the possibility of revenue sharing with local governments. This is a timely concept which has the potential to address the resource needs of local governments, but the lack of specifics was a disappointment to delegates.
That’s it. Two sentences, expressing the Caroboo MLA’s HONEST OPINION of a speech that, judging by news reports of it, WAS indeed a lacklustre snore.
Now be honest: how many British Columbians had ever heard of Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson before, checked out his website, visited the Welcome of Williams Lake website or ever really cared what he says? I surmise he’s had a lot more attention in the last day or so than ever before! And I’d bet more Cariboo residents admire Simpson now than just a couple of days ago, thanks to James’ over-reaction.
James and the NDP totally mishandled their response to Simpson’s remarks.
First of all, what was really wrong with it? Sure, he was critical of James’ speech; yes, it may have embarrassed party insiders, but for God’s sake, what’s wrong with an MLA stating his or her honest opinion? This wasn’t exactly a “confidence” vote situation! What kind of MLAs are the only ones now acceptable? Silent puppies who bark and raise their paws on command? Elected representatives who have no independence to even speak publicly on things that concern them?
This ailment not only afflicts the NDP: we see it in the B.C. Liberal Party and all the federal parties as well. Our elected MLAs and MPs have become little different from their counterparts in North Korea: they must never criticise or even comment adversely on anything said by the Dear Leader or face ”hang’em high” penalties for failing to march in lockstep.
So much for democracy and honestly expressed opinion.
Remember, Simpson did not attack or even question James’ leadership: he critiqued a boring speech.
If left alone, not very many ordinary citizens or voters in the province would likely have even noticed Simpson’s remarks. They should have been left in oblivion, or if raised by any media members, the leader and the party could have even benefitted from the issue, by explaining that the NDP is--unlike the Liberals--an open, democratic party, where even uncomfortable comments can be made, discussed and debated. In other words, they could have turned the issue, if anyone even bothered to raise it, into a win!
But by issuing their midnight press release, throwing Simpson out of the caucus, the NDP opened a much larger can of worms. A huge one--and the stink is wafting all over them, right around the province.
I could have understood if party apparatchiks had called Simpson on the carpet privately for his remarks, admonished him to be a team player and warned him of the political damage such statements could do. And it could have ended there.
Instead, Simpson has taken on the aura of a hero--a martyred one in fact; he’s been on every newscast and talk show within hearing of BC voters; and, most importantly, now that he’s “an independent MLA” he has been able to step up his criticism of not just James’ speech, but the leader herself, the party, and the whole political process.
And I sense the public likes what they are hearing from him.
The NDP leadership has turned two minor sentences in a website blog into a self-inflicted disaster, from which Simpson is in my view emerging looking better than James.
This column originally appeared in Mr. Oberfeld's blog, Keeping it Real. Reprinted with his kind permission.