Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Grown Locally

With all the news surrounding the Robocall Scandal, I can't help but feel like I've been neglecting my home province and the political news coming out of it. As such, we're going to leave federal politics alone for this post and focus solely on the provincial news.

Firstly, there's talk of a takeover of Viterra; the grain giant could face the possibility of a takeover from a still not-quite known company from outside of Canada. Much in the vein of the PotashCorp debates, politicians are already beginning to muse about what the sale of Viterra would mean to Saskatchewan and to Canada.

Wall, who was one of the last people to step up for PotashCorp (do try and keep that in mind), fired an opening salvo by suggesting that grain handling and producing wasn't as 'strategic' a resource as potash. Yes, because the stuff we use to grow food is more important the food that we end up producing...

So, for the moment, it looks like Wall is ready to jump on board and let this happen if the takeover bid comes through. That is, unless like PotashCorp, a report comes out and says Saskatchewan will lose a substantial amount of money from the deal.

Of course, the decision rests ultimately with the Federal Government. Wall can only advise, not stop this from going through if it happens. The Federal Government's track-record on these kinds of issue is a bit spotty, if only because we know that with PotashCorp, the government was strongly considering the deal and the opposition in the House of Commons and from the Provinces played a significant role...But that was also in a minority Parliament.

So, we'll see whether or not something like this will go through when it reaches that point. But given Wall's 'non-strategic' view of Viterra, the Feds may be inclined to agree knowing that the province won't be stepping up to defend the company.

The other big news, and what I will be dedicating the bulk of this post to, is the news that the Saskatchewan NDP will be getting a new leader in 2013.

A number of MLAs are public musing taking runs for the leadership, while a few prominent ones have also bowed out of consideration.

The following are the MLAs considering a run (in alphabetical order):
Buckley Bellanger
Cam Broten
Danielle Chartier
Cathy Sproule
Trent Wotherspoon

The following MLAs are not going to run (in alphabetical order):
David Forbes
Warren McCall
John Nilson
Doyle Vermette

There's also a number of other people who come to mind, mostly defeated candidates from the 2009 vote (like Ryan Meili and Yens Peterson) who might consider making a run for the leadership again. There's also several defeated Federal NDP candidates I could see getting involved in the leadership race for the provincial party, but I'll leave that alone for now.

Now, it's a bit hard to start forecasting odds on which potential candidate has the best odds of winning the leadership; let alone which one stands the best chance at rebuilding the party after the results of the last election. But, of the MLAs that currently are in office, some of them have more advantages than others.

In my mind, the 'top' three candidates who could enter the race would be Cam Broten, Danielle Chartier, and Trent Wotherspoon. They have a bit of experience behind them, and are well liked within the party by people outside of their constituencies. As such, I think they could garner the most support on a broad scale.

Bellanger is well known within his constituency, but I don't know if he'd be able to keep as high a profile as the other three. I'm not saying it's impossible, but his profile is currently lower than those of the other three. Furthermore, the fact that he isn't as well known yet to a wider audience, will allow the Saskatchewan Party to 'define' him; much in the same way the SK Party defined Lingenfelter and the Conservatives defined Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.

Sproule is also fighting to define herself to a broader scope of the party, as this is her first session in the legislature. She's talked about getting a feel for things before making a decision, but should she decide to run, she will be bogged down by questions of experience. Also, like Bellanger, she will be defined by SK Party before she has a chance to define herself to the people of Saskatchewan.

That's not to say that Bellanger or Sproule would be a bad leader; I think they'd do alright in the job, but the 'top three' have already created profiles for themselves outside of their constituencies and that would give them a leg up in the leadership race; whereas Bellanger and Sproule would have to start laying the groundwork for this during the campaign.

As such, in terms of the sitting MLAs (depending on who runs) it will ultimately be a race between Broten, Chartier, and Wotherspoon. The other advantage these three have is an intense likeability. The NDP didn't go negative against Wall in response to the ads against Lingenfelter, because of Wall's likeability and popularity.

That allowed the SK Party to decimate Lingerfelter in the court of public opinion. As such, the NDP needs its own leader with that certain likeability factor that prevents the SK Party from going negative against the leader. Broten, Chartier and Wotherspoon can ensure that.

Then we have to consider the outside factors.

I don't know if Ryan Meili would take another stab at the leadership, or if Yens Peterson would either, but its possible that one or both of them could make a run for it.

The advantages here is that as previous candidates, they still have some infrastructure in place to hit the ground running should they get involved in the race. The only question is if they have lost any of that infrastructure in the wake of a nomination race (in Meili's case) or a disappointing election result (in Peterson's case).

Also, those losses raise some questions that will stick in the mind of members. Peterson's electability, just as an MLA, is under question due to his inability to win his seat in the election. While this can be downplayed by pointing to SK Party momentum (and the fact that several long serving NDP MLAs lost their seat), it will be the primary challenge to Peterson as a leadership candidate.

As for Meili, who withdrew from his nomination contest in Saskatoon-Sutherland, there will be questions about determination. By which I mean, there will be questions about Meili's response to challenges and how he would deal with this as leader. There were concerns about the nomination in Sutherland, and accusations from campaign insiders about interference, and under those conditions its easy to understand why a 'high profile' candidate would back away from the race.

But, the fact that 'internal politics' could have played a factor undermine Meili's credibility in dealing with 'internal politics' both within the party or in the legislature in general. If he backed away from a nomination due to infighting, how will he deal with infighting within the party?

That's going to possibly be the strongest accusation levelled against Meili should he decide to make another leadership run.

That said, though, as noted Meili and Peterson do still have strong pockets of support and likeability, so that could very well be enough to get past any questions of past performance.

However, there is a stronger problem with an 'outsider' stepping into the race, and that stems from the contest of a by-election. Given the complications we had in the election, where so-called 'safe' ridings disappeared under a groundswell of support for the SK Party; we're going to be hard pressed to find a safe riding for a newly elected leader to run in.

Which of course, likely means as always, that a current MLA would be asked to step aside for an unelected leader. In that event, depending on who the leader is and where they hail from, a number of non-running MLAs come to mind.

If the leader comes from Regina, then I imagine John Nilson will be asked to stand aside; to a lesser degree, Warren McCall could also face prospect of stepping down for the leader.

If the leader comes from Saskatoon, things get complicated. The only Saskatoon MLA not running for the leadership is David Forbes; and frankly, while David is a nice enough guy to step down, the caucus would suffer if we didn't have him in it. He's been a strong voice for his riding, and on issues of housing and affordability, and our caucus would be diminished without him in it.

As such, if there is a Saskatoon based leader that isn't a current MLA (and Sproule, Broten, and Chartier all run), we could see a leader asking a defeated leadership opponent to step down from the legislature. Which could look like bitter grapes, and would also remove some stellar talent from our caucus.

Now, a by-election for an outsider has to happen. We can't elect a leader in 2013, and then have them outside of the legislature until 2015. We can't have a leader outside of the legislature for two years and then throw them into an election untested against Wall and the SK Party.

In my humble opinion, now is not the time for an unelected member to throw their hat into the leadership race. If not only for the problems mentioned above, but for the very fact that the current team of MLAs all bring something to the table and losing any of them for the sake of a by-election will have an impact on our performance as a whole.

As such, at this given moment, I don't think now is the time for an 'outsider' run at the top job. Of course, I could be proven wrong, provided the stars align the right way and the problems I've mentioned are addressed in such a manner that they become null and void.

Now that I've talked a bit about who could run, and why some candidates would have stronger footing than the others, we also need to talk about why a candidate needs to run.

There is a perception that the NDP are 'done' in Saskatchewan. It is a gloating fact that some of the more conservative members of my family remind me of when they see me. As such, our next leader needs to fight this perception and misconception. We can't have a leader with the kind of baggage our last one had, as it makes the election about personality politics not policy.

Our next leader has a lot of work to do in rebuilding the party, and its going to be a monumental undertaking. As such, we need to elect a leader committed to renewal and growing our party.

All of us will have to do our part, either as volunteers, supporters, candidates, and one of us will serve as leader. What we need to do is ensure that those who left the party, embittered by the last leadership contest, come back to us. And once we have resecured our past and present voters, then we can focus on expanding to future voters.

Regardless of who our leader will be, there is a lot of work to be done. And regardless of who it is, I will be there (and here) to do my part. Hopefully, they can count on you as well.


David McGrane said...

Interesting take on things...good job Scott.

Scott said...

Coming from a former Professor of mine; that means a lot.

Thanks for taking the time to read it, just don't grade me on it. :)