"If an MLA feels he or she simply cannot work with the leader, abide by the wishes of the NDP, or support party positions, then the honourable action is to leave caucus and the party and sit in the Legislature as an independent MLA," according to former provincial New Democrat cabinet minister Paul Ramsey. Mr. Ramsey made that comment in an open letter sent to opposition caucus members in the wake of calls for a leadership convention. Mr. Ramsey stated such calls have already harmed the party's chances of electoral success, predicting public criticism of leader Carole James by MLAs Bob Simpson and Jenny Kwan "will figure prominently in Liberal campaign literature. Continued turmoil will provide more ammunition to our political opponents." As such, he urged dissident legislators to either quit caucus or put their personal feelings and ambitions "aside and work together for the success of our party." The following is a complete copy of that letter.
An Open Letter to Members of the British Columbia NDP Caucus
My fellow New Democrats:
I write to you at a time of great danger to our party. Those calling for a quick leadership convention are, I believe, acting contrary to the expressed will of the party that, like you, I have had the privilege of representing as an MLA. I also believe that, if our present leader, Carole James, is forced to step aside in this way, our party will be badly split for a decade or more and will have no chance of success in the next provincial election.
Those who are nominated by riding associations, have those nominations approved by the party, and are chosen by the voters to serve as MLAs have huge responsibilities and considerable power. But they do not have the right to select or depose the leader of the New Democratic Party. Our leaders are chosen democratically by the members of the NDP, and an MLA has no more votes to cast than any other party member.
Similarly the NDP caucus has no power to compel a leadership review or a leadership convention. These matters are determined by the party constitution and conventions and, between conventions, by the Provincial Council. The constitution even denies caucus members a vote at Provincial Council; these decisions are simply not yours to make.
On November 20, the Provincial Council said "no" to a quick leadership convention. Members of the Council said "no" clearly and overwhelmingly; what part of "no" is so hard to understand? I urge all members of caucus to abide by the expressed wishes of our party. Your responsibility is to work with the leader to prepare a winning platform and a winning strategy for the next election. Past NDP caucuses--both in opposition and in government--have focused on that task regardless of internal stresses that were at least as severe as those you face.
I assure you that for decades MLAs have worked with leaders they disliked and supported policies and platforms that they had personally opposed. Such is the nature of parliamentary democracy: MLAs have the power and privilege of helping to shape party positions, and they have the responsibility of vigorously supporting those positions in public.
If an MLA feels he or she simply cannot work with the leader, abide by the wishes of the NDP, or support party positions, then the honourable action is to leave caucus and the party and sit in the Legislature as an independent MLA. That too is part of the nature of parliamentary democracy.
I hope that all MLAs fully understand how much harm caucus disunity has already done to our chances of electoral success, whenever the next provincial election is held. Statements made by Mr. Simpson and Ms. Kwan will figure prominently in Liberal campaign literature. Continued turmoil will provide more ammunition to our political opponents.
As a rule, voters do not understand nor care about how parties or caucuses operate. They do care that a party demonstrate that it can run its own affairs before it is willing to entrust it with the affairs of the province. And they do care that a party is concerned about issues important to them. Regretably, the obvious discord in the NDP caucus has already eroded public confidence in its ability to be a competent government. The longer such discord continues, the less the public will believe that the NDP has voters' concerns at heart or has the ability to address those concerns.
In closing, I appeal to all members of caucus to honour and respect the work and sacrifice of those who have built and served our party in the past--often under circumstances far more difficult than those you face now. You are the latest in a long line of New Democrat MLAs; put personal feelings or ambitions aside and work together for the success of our party.
In solidarity, Paul Ramsey