Provincial New Democrat leader Carole James's woes are mounting in the wake of Gordon Campbell's resignation and continuing controversy over a stipend provided to party president Moe Sihota. Ms. James's decision in early October to expel Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson without consulting caucus triggered public complaints from party members about her leadership. Those complaints intensified after it was learned that Mr. Sihota is being paid a stipend by the party using what it describes as a "generous, earmarked gift from the labour movement." Sources within the New Democrats said some MLAs are upset about being kept in the dark about that arrangement, while others are also concerned about how the deal is structured.
Now, with Mr. Campbell on his way out and a leadership race to choose a successor under way, concerns about Ms. James's leadership have been sharpened.
A recent Angus Reid Public Opinion poll found that 32 per cent of British Columbians want the New Democrats to form the government after the next election. By comparison, 6 per cent would prefer the Liberals under Mr. Campbell and 28 per cent would favour the Liberals under a new leader.
"If a poll taken a couple of days before Campbell actually stepped down says it doesn't look very likely for the NDP to form government, then that's a problem," Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali said in an interview.
"That's certainly got party members talking about leadership. It's true, people are talking about it everywhere I go."
Former cabinet minister Helmut Giesbrecht went even further in a separate interview: "The NDP needs to make a change. And, with Campbell gone, it's just going to be tougher if they don't."
As for Mr. Sihota's stipend, Columbia River-Revelstoke NDP MLA Norm Macdonald wouldn't comment on internal dissent surrounding it, citing caucus confidentiality. But the former caucus chair said he only found out about the arrangement in October, 10 months after the party's most senior officials decided to pay Mr. Sihota.
"I don't know who in caucus knew. I do know that I didn't know. And we were never formally told until it became public," Mr. Macdonald said.
Mr. Simpson, the expelled MLA, said he was never informed of the stipend, despite asking questions within the party as early as August.
Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, the liaison between the caucus and the party, said he also was not aware of the financial arrangement until October. In an interview, he said the party's senior decision makers - called table officers - decided to pay the president at a December, 2009, meeting Mr. Chandra Herbert was unable to attend. But he said no one informed him of the decision.
According to the NDP's constitution, the party's voting table officers include Ms. James and Mr. Sihota, as well as its treasurer and seven vice-presidents.
The New Democrats have refused to say whether Ms. James was aware of or involved in the decision. "This is an internal matter," explained party communications officer Michael Roy.
Mr. Simpson said: "The very fact that MLAs were not informed creates a trust issue. If Carole knew, it calls into question the trust that she has and the party leadership has in their caucus team."