Winning an election is a little bit like buying a used car. Voters want to be reassured that what they see is what they're going to get. And, in this upcoming election, British Columbians want to be reassured provincial New Democrat Leader Carole James isn't hiding a labour-powered engine under her hood. But to do that, Ms. James needs to do more than just give warm fuzzy speeches to business groups. Ms. James needs to have a Sister Souljah moment.
That term dates back to the 1992 American presidential election. During that election, Democratic candidate Bill Clinton delivered a controversial speech to the Rainbow Coalition - a powerful special interest group representing the rights of working people, women and ethnic minorities. In it, he essentially called rapper Sister Souljah a racist for explaining the actions of Los Angeles rioters by saying: "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?"
Since then, having a Sister Souljah moment has become shorthand in political circles for taking a position that alienates allies (such as the Rainbow Coalition) so that a politician can prove his or her independence and capture centrist votes. And that's exactly what Ms. James should do if she delivers a speech to the British Columbia Federation of Labour convention in November.
She needs to make it absolutely clear the New Democrats aren't patsies for big labour by killing one of the movement's sacred cows on stage (and it has to be a really meaty one - not a calf). Because that's the only definitive way James, whose leadership campaign received 50 per cent of its funding from the labour movement, can prove she isn't a union puppet.
But she may not be able to do that. Public Eye has spoken with many people about Ms. James - her friends and colleagues - and come to the conclusion James is just not a confrontational person. She's a conciliator. That's not a bad thing. But being confrontational is what having a Sister Souljah moment is all about.
And her party doesn't seem to be in much of a confrontational mood, either. They may be moving in a centrist policy direction. But they're doing so on tippy-toes, trying desperately hard not to alienate their core lefty voters too much. That would be a smart idea if it weren't for the fact that those voters are probably so furious with the Liberals they would support the New Democrats even if the party started sacrificing small animals.
So Carole, here's Public Eye's advice: ignore your instincts. Give British Columbians what they want. Prove to them that you and your party aren't owned by anyone. Give big labour a big talking to. And put this issue to rest.
Credit where credit is due: A version of this article ran in today's Times Colonist.