"Sadly, yes." That's what former speaker of the legislative assembly Joan Sawicki told Public Eye today, when asked whether provincial New Democrat leader Carole James's resignation announcement has deepened divisions with her party. During that announcement, Ms. James suggested dissident MLAs were "bullies" and claimed that she bears no responsibility for the infighting. "I can appreciate, on a human level, just how she is feeling," Ms. Sawicki allowed. "And I think all of us want to certainly thank her for the contribution she's made to the party and to the province over the past seven years she's been leader. I don't think anyone is suggesting that she hasn't made an incredibly important contribution to rebuilding our party. But every politician knows this is a very, very tough life. And how a leader or any MLA or MP chooses to exit the political world tells a lot about themselves and is just as important as how they enter it."
"Name-calling isn't going to get us beyond this. I think there's probably plenty of blame to go around here. But I have to think a leader of any political party, one of their most important jobs is to keep their caucus together and ensure everybody finds a positive place in that caucus. The fact that Carole James was not able to do that I think speaks volumes and has to have contributed to these really very painful and sometimes ugly events that have happened to us over these past couple weeks."
"It's clear we've had a very public family fight. And I think the events for everyone have been really traumatic and emotionally and painful," she acknowledged. But Ms. Sawicki maintained the party can rebuild and win the next election, encouraging New Democrats to "remember our party is more than a leader, it's more than a group of caucus members and it's more than a few insiders who don't want to let go of the old guard, command-and-control kind of politics."
Indeed, if the party wants to be "relevant to voters" it's going to have to "make the transition to a more engaging and democratic system...Because the back room, command-and-control kind of politics has had its day."
At the same time, she also urged James loyalists to cease their attacks on Jenny Kwan and the other MLAs who stood with her. "I think Jenny has handled herself with incredible dignity and restraint though all this. As she herself has said, making that statement was probably the most difficult decision of her political career. Yes, the action that she and the 12 other MLAs took was unprecedented - but I believe it was also an anomaly."
"Our job out here, in my opinion, is to stop the name calling that is prolonging this very public family fight, reach across the divisions, and remember what makes us all New Democrats. We have a party to renew in a way that is more progressive in its thinking and more inclusive and democratic in its processes - and I think a lot of members and supporters all across this province are excited about that."