Carole James is stepping down as leader of British Columbia's New Democratic Party after seven years at the helm.

At a brief news conference Monday morning at the legislature in Victoria, James said she felt she had become the excuse for infighting within the party, and added that she wanted to remove that excuse so the NDP could concentrate on policy.

"At this point in time, my time and energy as leader is consumed with the infighting. And that's not right. It's not productive, it's not useful and most importantly, it's not serving the people of British Columbia," she said. 

"Fighting amongst ourselves is not what we were elected to do."

James said she plans to stay on only until the party chooses an interim leader in January and will continue to sit as an MLA after that.

"This hasn't been an easy decision, as I'm sure you can imagine. But it's been a decision that I've made in the best interests of the party," she said.

"Most importantly, it's been made in the best interests of British Columbians, who expect and deserve a functioning Opposition. They're not getting that right now in this province."

Dissident MLAs could not be silenced

The announcement follows months of infighting within the NDP that boiled over in September when James fired outspoken MLA Bob Simpson for criticizing in an online posting a speech James made to municipal leaders.

Many in the party were critical of James's approval ratings, which have long trailed far behind her party. They also felt the party needed a new leader to renew it, following the recent resignation of Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell and the potential renewal of that party under a new leader.

That led to calls for her resignation that were renewed last week by a dissident faction of 13 NDP MLAs led by veteran Jenny Kwan, who lashed out at James in a public letter. Kwan called James undemocratic for the way she ran caucus meetings and demanded a leadership convention.

James promised to hold Kwan and the other dissidents accountable for their statements at an emergency meeting of party leaders she called for Sunday afternoon. But at the last minute, James cancelled the meeting, asking for more time to have one-on-one discussions with the dissidents.

Could not silence critics

On Monday morning, the calls for James to resign continued, and her office scheduled a surprise news conference for 11 a.m. PT at which she announced her intention to step down.

James told reporters she decided to resign because it was clear the dissidents would continue to fight internally.

She accused the dissidents have putting self-interest ahead of public good, but placed no blame on herself for the current state of the party.

"I'm proud of the work that I've done … that our party has done. From two seats, to three seats, to 35 seats," she said.

Untenable position

But SFU public policy Prof. Kennedy Stewart said James had no choice but to step down because she was in an untenable position.

"After the meeting was called off on Sunday it was all but predictable," said Kennedy.

"When you draw 10 lines in the sand and the rebel group steps over it every single time, you really have nothing left to do except resign," said Stewart.

He predicts that since it was a vocal minority that forced out a majority leader, all the ill feelings that generated will be carried forward within the party, and things will get much worse for the party before they get better.

James, who has led the party since 2003, thanked her family for their support during her time as leader of the NDP.

"They deserve huge appreciation for what they have given this party and this province," she said. "It has been an incredible roller-coaster ride."