The dissidents may have won the war but provincial New Democrat leader Carole James seemed to do her best on Monday to ensure no one wins the peace. In refusing to bear any of the blame for the infighting that resulted in her resignation, Ms. James placed all of it on the dissidents and even the party itself - damaging the New Democrats' chances of reuniting and even winning the next election. Speaking with reporters, Ms. James declared she had "done everything to reach out to the individuals in our caucus. I've done everything to work with every individual in our caucus." But, while we may never know what olive branches James offered privately, publicly she and her supporters have repeatedly made hard line decisions that escalated party infighting.
Those decisions included:
* Ms. James unilaterally expelling Bob Simpson from caucus after the Cariboo North MLA penned a column saying her speech to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities annual general meeting offered local politicians "little concrete...other than a commitment to be more consultative than the current government;"
* Ms. James describing dissidents as being "selfish" following Katrine Conroy's decision to resign as caucus whip. For her own part, Ms. Conroy had refrained from bad mouthing the leader - or even explaining her reasons for stepping down. But the leader also suggested Conroy and her compatriots "would rather take this party apart than build and support the people of British Columbia and prepare for government;"
* handing out yellow scarves to loyalists during a contentious meeting of the party's governing council, during which delegates would vote down a resolution to have a leadership convention in 2011. The scarves were described by former cabinet minister Corky Evans as "the most divisive thing I have ever witnessed in our Party," in effect identifying those who didn't wear them as being "Disloyal and Bad;" and
* announcing an emergency caucus meeting where Ms. James promised "every MLA will be held accountable for their behaviour."
If the dissenters had been a "small minority" as Ms. James claimed, this hard line may have beaten them into submission. But when a "small minority" of "complainers" is actually 40 percent of the opposition caucus, as well as an undetermined number of rank-and-file party members, she would have been better advised to have pursued a more conciliatory approach rather than one that further balkanized the party.
Nevertheless, when asked whether she bore any responsibility for the infighting, she gave a blunt, "No." Indeed, in announcing her resignation, she made it more difficult for MLAs outside the tent to come back in, suggesting they were "bullies" who "refuse to come to the table and do the work that needed to be done," as well as having put "self-interest ahead of the common good."
This is the truth from her perspective. But it would have been more statesperson-like to say there were faults on both sides, acknowledging the dissidents share the same values as every other New Democrat and they, like her, were only doing what they thought was right - even if that isn't the truth from her perspective.
But, for the New Democrats as a whole, that's not the worst of it. Because Ms. James - in act and omission - has also blamed the party itself for the questioning of her leadership.
"We've seen this before," she told reporters last month following Ms. Conroy's resignation. "We saw it with Mike Harcourt. We've seen it with past leaders. We've seen it with others in this party where some decide that they want to come forward and fight internally rather than build that progressive vision for this province."
This messaging encourages British Columbians to see the recent unrest as representing a structural flaw within the New Democrats, discouraging an examination of its specific causes. And she seemed to do little to protect the party's brand during her resignation announcement.
"Won't the party forever be tarnished by this? You'll always be known as the party that gave into a bunch of, as you call it, bullies," asked one reporter.
"Even under a new leader Carole, do you think this bunch is ready to govern?," another wondered.
"Where's the hope for any kind of unity in this party given your obvious frustration with this mess?," the reporter went on to add.
Ms. James didn't appear to directly contradict the premise of these questions - in doing so, encouraging such lines of thought and adding further weight to the accusation there are actually New Democrats who "put self-interest ahead of the common good." After all, there are those who would accuse her of being among them.