One of the big issues coming out of the Saskatchewan NDP Leadership Race thus far is the idea of change; or at the very least, the idea of renewal. I was spurred onto this post after reading Jason's post over at Head Tale (LINK) regarding which candidate presented the best option for change within the Saskatchewan NDP. As such, I want to add my two cents to this notion of change.
Firstly, let it be said that I am a man who is fond of change. I like advancements and I like the world to move forward; if I could have various limbs replaced with robotic ones with no risk to myself or others, I'd say damn the consequences and go ahead and give it a shot. However, we must always be wary of the notion of change for the sake of change.
While those robotic limbs might be nice (and enable me to lift 200 pounds no problem), at the same time one would have to be careful to make sure that it was a change that was a net positive. And I think that's always something that we have to consider, especially in politics. It's with that in mind that I think Jason has wrongly written off Trent and Cam as agents of the least change for the party.
Personally, I think that every candidate is bringing something to the table with regards to meaningful change. Cam's approach in rebuilding the party at the grassroots level, for example, is a sound idea of change that would have a profound impact on the party. Every candidate has some aspect of their campaign that endorses them as agents of change.
Trent's mixture of reviving old NDP programs that have fallen by the wayside with new ideas and approaches to civil engagement is another good example. To write off these two candidates as harbingers of the 'status quo', I think, is a dangerous mistake to make.
Furthermore, I think there are some fundamental problems presented in Jason's arguments with regards to Trent and Cam. Just because Trent and Cam didn't support Ryan in the last leadership race doesn't necessarily mean that they are against renewal and changing the party. I think it's too easy to point to Trent's support of Dwain Lingenfelter, and Cam's support of Deb Higgins, and say that it's proof of the status quo.
Dwain and Deb were both experienced MLAs in a contest, much like this one, where two other candidates did not have experience as an MLA. Furthermore, especially in Cam's case, I'd imagine there was a mentality of caucus solidarity; by which I mean, supporting a candidate who is a co-worker and a friend. I think it's the equivalent of helping a friend move rather than helping the new neighbour you don't know. As such, I don't think it reflects badly on the desire for change or renewal, and I think chalking up past allegiances to prior leadership candidates is a non-starter.
I can't speak to Ryan's prior allegiances, as I don't honestly know the answer or even if he was involved in casting a ballot for leaders prior to his entry into politics, but I don't think we'd hold anything against him if he preferred Chris Axworthy or Nettie Wiebe to Lorne Calvert.
Also, allow me to play Devil's Advocate for a moment. There is this notion, more like gossip, that after winning Dwain Lingenfelter made a point of keeping Ryan Meili out of caucus and out of the legislature. Now, if Dwain was indeed actually that petty (as I've said, this is all second hand gossip, but it illustrates my point), would you want to be the caucus member who supported his strongest rival?
So ,whether Trent backed Dwain out of the experience factor, liking the policies he heard, or simply out of fear of what Dwain would do to the caucus member who supported his strongest rival; the argument of neither of them supported Ryan in the last race doesn't hold a lot of water. We've all voted for different leaders at different times, and to hold that against anyone and say that it shows a lack of commitment to improving the party, I think is an incorrect statement to make.
Effectively, on the first point, I don't think you can write off Trent or Cam because they're sitting MLAs who supported other candidates in 2009. They've both brought forward interesting policies and discussions that are already focused on change and renewal of the party, and they're valuable voices to have in the discussion.
That brings us to the second argument regarding Erin Weir.
Jason points out that Erin, as the youngest candidate and as someone who has spent time outside of the province, can bring change and renewal into the party. But then dismisses this notion by suggesting that Erin's been connected to the party for too long.
Again, we see an argument forming around the status quo.
Now, I think this is another dangerous argument to make, if only because it negates the role of long-term party members. Yes, it is true that if you entrench yourself in a culture there is a possibility of the culture changing you, rather than you changing it. Yes, there are people who prefer to say 'sit down, you're rocking the boat'!
But there's also people who want to challenge the status quo, and who will rock the boat. I don't think a person can enter a leadership contest without being this type of person; and some people point to that as one of the reasons why Brian Topp failed federally, because he stuck too close to already established NDP Policy that he had helped draft in the last election.
Right now, it's hard to say that ANY of the candidates are simply repeating policy. Everyone's brought something to the table, and I think that alone shows that this notion of the status quo is an incorrect one to hold.
As I mentioned, there is a worry that the longer you spend inside a 'culture' or 'mentality' the more likely it is that it will change you. But I think, and this applies to all the candidates, that we have a crop of people who are more likely to CHANGE the culture rather than be changed by it.
Effectively, on the second point, I don't think simply being involved in the party longer than another candidate means you're less passionate to change it. In some cases, it might actually make you more passionate about changing your party since you don't want to see it grow stagnant and languish in electoral hell.
As for Jason's third argument, I more or less have to agree with some of it. Ryan is a strong candidate, and he does bring a wealth of experience from outside of politics that would serve him well as leader. I also agree that Ryan has a hurdle in becoming leader due to his life outside of politics, but I think as the 2009 race proved, it might not be as big a hurdle imagined. By no means can anyone call Ryan the 'underdog' of the race.
Finally, let's talk a bit about Jason's final assertion. Members who don't want a major change may support Trent or Cam, but I still think that's a bit of a misnomer. Cam's behind the scenes of the party changes are pretty seismic, so calling him a candidate who will only 'tweak the party', I think is a little less than accurate.
As stated, I think all the candidates are bringing some form of change to the table; either for the party's organization or for the approach to crafting policy and engaging voters. In that way, I think any of them can easily make their case for being the candidate with the right ideas to reinvigorate the NDP in Saskatchewan.
But, now, I need to discuss something that we touched on but didn't explore: How much change do we need?
There are numerous answers to this question depending on how you interpret the last election. So, let's look at the interpretations:
1.) Saskatchewan has never had a 1 term government, therefore, it was unlikely that the SK Party was going to lose.
2.) The race was about personality; and Brad Wall's 'down-to-earth' approach came off better than Dwain Lingenfelter's 'gruff' personality.
3.) The province was doing well financially, and people didn't want to change hands on the wheel of the economy.
4.) The NDP ran a dismal campaign, and it was our lack of ideas that sunk us.
Those are pretty much the four major interpretations of why we lost in 2011, although some people hold some or all of those to be true in their own personal interpretations. Personally, I think 1 - 3 played a factor in the race, but I don't think number four did.
I've mentioned before on this blog, during and after the election, that I thought our policies were pretty strong in the last election. The potash review is a topic that the party is still talking about, and pretty much all of the current leadership candidates have endorsed the creation of a 'Bright Futures Fund' from non-renewable resource revenue.
Where we lost voters, as I've explained before, was the Revenue Sharing with First Nations. I was on the doorsteps and phones in several different communities during the election, and we had long time supporters telling us they wouldn't be voting NDP because of the Revenue Sharing plan. And the main reason, I think it happened, was because the plan wasn't defined by us. It was defined by the SK Party.
By throwing it out as an idea during the election, and not working on it before hand, we allowed the SK Party to frame the argument. They could throw out any number for cost, and we had nothing to refute them with. If the party had spent the time prior to the election meeting with First Nations leaders and discussing the plan and getting estimates on the cost of the program, I think it would have been a slightly easier sell.
It still would have kept the more, for want of a better word, 'racist' people of Saskatchewan from embracing the NDP, but it might have at least allayed some of the concerns that people had over the cost of the program and the cost on non-First Nations people of Saskatchewan.
Other than that, the policies brought forward by the party were strong (in my opinion) and it wasn't for lack of policy ideas that the NDP had a dismal showing.
So, why do I mention this?
I do so because I think there is this idea that we have to completely rebuild the party from the beginning. I don't think that is the case; we do have work to do, but this is a renovation project not a tear down and rebuild. So, while we do need to embrace some changes in our party, we need to remember our roots and correctly identify the problems that reduced us in the province. If we address non-problems, or misidentify what needs to change, regardless of who leads us we'll be in the same boat come the next election.
Change is good, but making the correct change is what we need.