In the next election, provincial New Democrat leader Carole James will try convincing British Columbians like you and me that her party represent a moderate, fiscally responsible alternative to the Liberals, unless, of course, its members get in the way. Unlike the federal Liberals, whose internal donnybrooks often have more to do with power than policy, the New Democrats - and the Conservatives, for that matter - actually have scraps about what their parties stand for.
The battle lines are usually drawn between the moderates (who might form government) and the traditionalists (who, to put it politely, stand less of a chance of forming government). With a few exceptions, the moderates currently seem to have the keys to the New Democrats' executive washroom. But more importantly, they're also holding the pen that's writing most of James' speeches and filling in her itinerary.
Consider, for example, her recent speech to the Coalition of British Columbia Businesses, where she promised to "ensure there are balanced budgets" and listen to the business community. But, of course, not every New Democrat wants their leader to chart a centrist course.
Among those who would prefer to be sailing through less electable waters: the Young New Democrats. The youngsters have written a charter described on one leftie Internet message board as "an antidote to Carole James cozying up to business."
That Youth Rights Charter is a wish list that includes demands for everything from free public transit for the twentysomething and below set to free post-secondary education. And here's the kicker: the Young New Democrats don't just want to raise taxes to pay for these more than modest proposals.
According to the charter, "Canada is a rich country. If the wealth were spread out evenly, each family would be worth $315,996. What we need is a democratic economy where decisions on what is needed are made by the people and not by the corporate elite." That's one step away from calling on the workers of the world to unite and seize the means of production.
The proposal would be comical if it wasn't such a threat to the James' moderation scheme. Just look at what happened when the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its tax-and-spending-spree alternative provincial budget.
The centre may not be directly affiliated with the New Democrats, but that didn't stop Liberal backbenchers from calling it the Carole James budget and blasting it in the legislature. So just think of all the fun they'd have with a document that actually had the words New Democrat somewhere in its title?
Well, it seems party officials were thinking along similar lines, even before the CCPA budget became an issue. So when the New Democrat's provincial council voted to endorse the charter 14 months ago, it did so "pending the approval of the Policy Review Committee."
Some of those officials say the idea was to let that committee iron out the more radical kinks in the charter before the party had to publicly wear it. But no amount of steam from the policy review committee could straighten out the Young New Democrats and their perma-wrinkle document.
According to a letter from the youth executive dated July 22 and leaked to the Times Colonist, its members rejected proposals to water down the charter or turn it into a less authoritative statement of principles. Instead, without the party's endorsement, they went ahead and posted the charter on their Web site, ignoring suggestions from officials to label it a work-in-progress. And now the Young New Democrats are demanding party president Jeff Fox hand over the money they need to print and promote the charter.
The friction between the youth wing and the senior provincial council, however, may only be a temporary problem. The Young New Democrats hold their annual convention in October. The wing's co-chairs, who have been supporting the charter, aren't expected to run for re-election. And there's a good chance the moderates may end up taking over.
However, some of the more radical candidates who are seeking nominations for the next election won't be as easy to deal with. And so far, James has been reluctant to take them behind the woodshed. But she'll need to use a paddle sooner or later, lest her own supporters tank the party's chances of appearing moderate and fiscally responsible.