Business as usual?

Carole James addressed concerns about her leadership style tonight during a speech pitched to British Columbia's business community. The occasion was a $250 per ticket party fundraiser targeting members of that community - an event which was initially scheduled to take place in Victoria but later moved to Vancouver. According to her speaking notes, Ms. James told attendees she's been "criticized for reaching out to, and meeting with, B.C.'s business community."

Nevertheless, she promised to "welcome business to my table, not to earn their vote but because it's the right thing to do," stressing that "the wealth created by business and entrepreneurs helps pay for the services that make for a just and fair society."

As a result, Ms. James said risk must be rewarded and innovation should be encouraged - committing to promote trade and open markets while maintaining a competitive tax environment for small business and diversifying the economy.

That being said, the New Democrat leader stated, "I do not believe that it's government's job to just get out of the way and let markets do all the work. Governments also have a fundamental responsibility to fairness."

That includes measures like reducing child poverty, raising the minimum wage and making B.C. "a place where workers are treated fairly and with respect."

Ms. James also repeatedly touched on the importance of education, which became the centrepiece of her economic agenda during the New Democrats recent biennial convention. And she addressed concerns about her leadership style.

Ms. James sarcastically noted she was "shocked" to have been told she's "not the flashiest or most charismatic politician in the world." The reason: she's always seen herself as "a cross between John Wayne and Lady Gaga. You know: A tough-talking cowboy...with a flair for the outrageous."

"But in all seriousness, I firmly believe my approach and my style of leadership is the right one for our province and our time," having "never believed that the politics of division is a politics that works or delivers results."

The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned notes.

***

Carole James, Leader of the BC NDP
Leader's Levee Address
September 24, 2010
Check against delivery

Thank you for being here with us tonight.

I want to thank all of you for your contributions to our province. Looking around the room, you'll see leaders from all sectors of our economy, all regions of our province.

You'll also see our fantastic team of New Democrat MLAs.

A great caucus -- a diverse and dedicated group. I'd like to ask all of them to stand and be recognized for their hard work.

Tonight, I want to talk about doing business differently in B.C.

About the approach we need to take if we're going to build the future we all want.

An approach to leadership that represents a fundamental shift in the way we take on challenges.

An approach built on the idea that what unites British Columbians is much stronger than what divides us.

To many of you, uniting British Columbia might seem like an impossible task, given our province's history and the state of politics in B.C. today.

But I believe not only is it possible, it's absolutely essential if we're going to address the challenges we face.

Those challenges are great. We are a province in transition.

The global recession fundamentally changed our economic reality. And our province was among the hardest hit.

We've experienced heavy job losses, particularly in our resource and manufacturing sectors.

We saw a huge drop in our exports.

And trends in consumer spending and consumer confidence are persistent concerns.

While we're starting to see some positive signs, the global recovery is still uncertain and tentative.

The troubles of our neighbours south of us continue to impact our resource and tourism markets in particular.

The decisions we make now, will have a significant effect on how British Columbians experience that recovery.

There are also significant social challenges, like poverty and homelessness, the growing income gap and disparities between rural and urban British Columbia.

And over all this looms climate change, an environmental crisis that has already impacted our province and our economy.

The challenges we face are serious. They're complex.

But these are challenges we can meet. There are answers. There are solutions.

But they aren't going to be addressed by the old ways of doing business.

And they aren't getting the attention and the focus they deserve, because we have a government focused on its own chaos.

There is no better example of that than the HST.

Announcing a major tax policy with no warning, no consultation, and no questions asked... is a lesson in how not to do things in today's B.C.

The HST has created serious economic uncertainty, just when we need it the least.

Whatever your views on the tax, I think we can all agree the referendum should be held as soon as possible.

That's why I wrote to the Premier this week, to tell him New Democrats are ready to come back to the Legislature, make the changes, and hold the referendum this fall.

It's the right move for our democracy. The right move for our economy.

While the people of B.C. are seriously questioning the government's direction, they're also rightly questioning what kind of change New Democrats propose.

The government's broken trust does not automatically translate into trust for New Democrats.

We have to work for it. We have to earn it.

In a province that's changing fast, we have to show we too have changed with the times.

That we understand the new challenges facing British Columbians.

That we have a vision for the future.

And that we have the right approach.

My vision for British Columbia is based on four key priorities:

A strong, dynamic economy that supports traditional industries while diversifying our base.

Investments in human capital to give British Columbians the opportunities and the skills they need.

A fundamental commitment to sustainability and environmental health -- a commitment that must be reflected in our choices and our actions.

And a strong democracy, with open government and fair access to information.

Achieving this vision in today's B.C. will require fresh thinking.

It will take a different kind of leadership than is usual in B.C. politics.

Leadership that respects and values the contribution of every British Columbian, and moves beyond traditional divides.

Leadership that unites British Columbians in common purpose, while respecting their differences.

Leadership that reflects our shared values and our commitment to a better world.

Now, I've been told that I am not the flashiest or most charismatic politician in the world.

Really? Not flashy? That's a bit of a shock.

I always saw myself as a cross between John Wayne and Lady Gaga.

You know: A tough-talking cowboy...with a flair for the outrageous!

And some people say I'm not up to the challenge.

You've heard the comments, I'm sure.

"She's nice, but she's just not tough enough for this game."

I have to tell you that anyone who knows the B.C. NDP knows being leader for seven years is a feat of strength in itself!

But in all seriousness, I firmly believe my approach and my style of leadership is the right one for our province and our time.

I have always believed that people, not personalities, should be at the centre of our politics.

And I have never believed that the politics of division is a politics that works or delivers results.

Now, that doesn't mean we will always agree on every issue.

This is British Columbia after all, where our need for debate and disagreement is legendary.

But it does mean that under my leadership, everyone will be respected. Everyone will be listened to.

And from that, comes better, lasting change.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

New Democrats are hosting a dialogue called Our Province, Our Future.

To kick off that dialogue I held a Leader's Summit -- a diverse group of more than 200 British Columbians from all walks of life, all regions, all sectors of our economy.
At that Summit, we put aside our differences and talked about our common aims.

We talked about the need for a long-term economic strategy, about the role education plays in our economy and our society, about sustainability and the role of good government.

It was a great conversation, one that's continuing in our regions and in key economic sectors.

Our Province, Our Future shows that you can bring diverse views together in common purpose in the province of B.C.

Despite our reputation. Despite our politics.

And that by working together, we can find the innovative solutions we need to succeed.

In April, I held a roundtable with Chinese tourism and business leaders to talk about the Approved Destination Status agreement between Canada and China.

An incredible opportunity that could bring millions of new tourists to B.C.

But it won't just happen overnight. It takes work.

And it was clear from the discussion that B.C. hasn't yet done that work.
We're not prepared for this opportunity.

In fact, the government cut funding for tourism and eliminated independent Tourism BC.

At this roundtable, it became very clear - the ideas were there, the solutions achievable.

What's missing right now is leadership.

We need a different approach to turn this incredible tourism opportunity into a reality for B.C.

A few months ago, I spoke at a conference on green jobs in Washington, DC.

Business, labour, environmental and government leaders assembled to address the most fundamental challenge of our time.

This is precisely the kind of approach we need in British Columbia today.

I left that conference convinced of the potential I saw for B.C.

We have the people, the skills, and the determination to lead the green revolution.

But if we're going to do it, it will take a different approach.

It will take hard work, and it will take courage to set aside the old traditions and forge new ones.

But it is possible.

And it's incumbent upon all of us - each and every one in this room - to make it happen.

And so even though I have been criticized for reaching out to, and meeting with, B.C.'s business community....

"Come on Carole, they'll never vote for you. They campaigned against you! That's not the way politics is done in B.C."

I will continue to welcome business to my table, not to earn their vote, but because it's the right thing to do.

The future we all want for our province is not possible without a strong and dynamic private sector.

Risk must be rewarded. Innovation encouraged.

The wealth created by business and entrepreneurs helps pay for the services that make for a just and fair society.

We can't have one without the other.

That's why I will work with B.C. business to promote trade and open markets.

It's why I'll support small business by maintaining a competitive tax environment.

It's why I support economic diversification and key investments in science, high-tech, arts and culture and green sectors.

It's why I support a made-in-B.C. product strategy.

It's why I've tabled a forward-looking forestry plan.

It's why I'll partner with business and labour to expand trades training.

And it's why I will address First Nations land and resource interests, to end the conflict and uncertainty and increase employment, investment and economic growth.

That's the kind of leadership British Columbians can expect from me.

The old approach -- that says British Columbians have to choose between a strong business climate on the one hand, or strong social programs and a healthy environment on the other -- must be set aside.

British Columbians can count on me to work every day to break out of that mould.

But let me be clear: I do not believe that it's government's job to just get out of the way and let markets do all the work.

Governments also have a fundamental responsibility to fairness.

To ensuring that a strong economy and growing businesses are built from a strong society and sustainable environmental practices.

That's why I have fought my whole life -- and will always fight -- for social justice.

Because I believe that it is both a moral and economic responsibility.

The benefits of a strong economy don't just trickle down to British Columbians.

They're created when all British Columbians have the opportunity to fulfill their potential and contribute to the prosperity of our province.

That's why I will work to reduce child poverty in the province of British Columbia.

It's why I support raising B.C.'s minimum wage.

It's why I will work with communities to provide safe and secure housing.

It's why I've committed to make B.C. a place where workers are treated fairly and with respect.

And it's why I am so passionate about education.

Smart investments in education will pay huge economic dividends and build the strong, fair, just society we all strive for.

Last week, I visited Templeton Secondary School and toured their chef training program.

Where students can complete their high school graduation and earn college credits at the same time.

I met a future chef who told me about his plans for opening his own restaurant.

He described the concept, the layout and the challenges of being a small business owner.

This future entrepreneur needs a strong education system to provide him the skills and a strong economy to use those skills.

I want B.C. to be known as the place that got it right.

That saw the opportunity to be a world leader in economic innovation, social justice and environmental stewardship.

Saw to it that every British Columbian had the opportunity to make the most of themselves and to give back to their community.

Saw to it that the green jobs of today and the future are thriving right here in our province.

I want B.C. to be the place that had the courage to chart a new course.

But the road to that future is not found, but made.

It will take putting the old divides aside.

It will take focus and determination.

It will take an ability to work across sectors.

To bring business and labour, first nations and industry, local governments and environmentalists to the same table, to tackle the difficult questions head-on.

This is tough work -- tough conversations.

It would be easy to continue on with the same old approach.

Business in one room -- labour in another.

Industry on one side -- First Nations and environmentalists on the other.

That's the easy path. But I've never taken the easy path.

And if we're going to be a leader economically, socially and environmentally, it's time to step up, focus on what's good for BC and work to get it done.

Let me conclude.

We live in an amazing province. And I am so proud to be a British Columbian.

I'm reminded of that each summer as my husband and I head off on our annual camping trip.

Yes, I travel for a living about three-quarters of the time, but that doesn't keep me from the draw of exploring this amazing place we all live in.

We have all the strengths we need to lead:

A strong private sector and thriving entrepreneurial culture.

Dynamic people with the energy and ingenuity to create and innovate.

Abundant natural resources -- resources that built this province.

Quality public services that support B.C.'s people and communities.

And a spectacular environment that's the envy of the world.

What we need is leadership to bring those strengths together.

Leadership that knows the best ideas come from the bottom up, not the top down.

That respects our natural environment and the people who live here.

That knows a strong economy, a just society and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand.

Tonight, I invite you to imagine the B.C. we can be.

And I invite you to join me -- to join New Democrats -- in making that vision a reality.

Thank you very much.

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