Top of Mind - October 11, 2010

Could provincial New Democrat leader Carole James reverse her decision to expel Cariboo North legislator Bob Simpson?

With the weight of editorial opinion from the province's pundits in her favour, its unlikely the party leader will voluntarily reverse her decision to expel Mr. Simpson. Such a reversal becomes even more unlikely when you consider the MLA's criticism of Ms. James became more pointed after being expelled. What happens, though, if MLAs threaten to quit caucus if Mr. Simpson isn't invited back? That might change Ms. James's position. But would he accept that invitation after everything that went on last week? Other possible scenarios worth considering include caucus voting to reinstate Mr. Simpson, the party's provincial council calling on MLAs to do just that and the resignation of opposition members from their caucus duties.

Will Mr. Simpson's expulsion from the opposition caucus affect Ms. James's winnability in the next election?

Ms. James's decision to expel Mr. Simpson has prompted denunciations from both former cabinet ministers and rank-and-file provincial New Democrats. For example, in an interview with Public Eye, Corky Evans called that decision "stupid" while Helmut Giesbrecht told us "there's certainly lack of leadership" in the party. Those denunciations could be turned into attack ads by the Liberals in the next election, compromising the New Democrats chances of forming government if Ms. James remains as leader.

Will Mr. Simpson's expulsion affect the New Democrats' ability to win over disaffected Liberals?

The Cariboo North MLA was once a Liberal constituency association president. And now Ms. James is using that past affiliation against him, telling The Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer, "He's clearly unhappy. And let's remember Bob was clearly unhappy with the Liberal Party when he belonged to them. He quit the Liberal Party, joined the New Democrats. He's unhappy with us now as New Democrats. I hope Bob finds a place that's happy." So, if you were a Liberal, would that encourage you become involved with the New Democrats?

What kind of cooperation can we expect to see between Vicki Huntington, Blair Lekstrom and Mr. Simpson?

British Columbia's independent legislators have some commonalities. None of them are ideologues. And Ms. Huntington and Mr. Simpson both have an interest in sustainable development issues.

When she was municipal councillor, the Delta South MLA made headlines for opposing the expansion of the Deltaport container terminal, the South Fraser Perimeter Road and high-voltage power lines in Tsawwassen.

As for Mr. Simpson, before being elected, he wrote an environmental column for the Cariboo Observer and was associate editor for Earthkeeper, an environmental magazine.

By comparison, Mr. Lekstrom's position on such issues is less clear.

For example, when asked about the province's position on offshore oil and gas development earlier this year, the then energy, mines and petroleum resources minister told reporters, "If it can be done properly, I think people will entertain it; if it can't, then it wouldn't be...At the same time, they (British Columbians) are also saying, 'I want better health care, I want better roads, I want better social programs,' so you try to find a balance as a government. But again, this is not about extracting a resource at any cost."

Yet he also advanced landowner rights during his tenure in that portfolio. So it's possible sustainable development is another commonality between the three independents.

But what kind of cooperation could that result in? Likely informal, since both Ms. Huntington and Mr. Lekstrom have committed to remain independents. Although is there a means by which they could formally cooperate within breaking that commitment?

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