Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Editorial Content: Hey Buddy, Spare Some Change?

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.


Anonymous said...

How did Dwain keep Meili out of caucus? It was Broten who became involved in the Sutherland nomination.

Scott said...

Anonymous strikes again, I see.

The fact of the matter, and hence the problem I have with this theory, is that both stories exist. There are people who say Dwain went out of his way to keep Ryan out; while some people say Cam was keeping Ryan out in Sutherland.

Both stories exist, and both can't be true. Furthermore, as I've pointed out, I was there in Sutherland. I saw the nomination process as a candidate and later as a volunteer.

As someone who was there, there was nothing untoward going on; and this assertion that there was is simply ridiculous without proof.

Since you choose to keep your name withheld, I can't say whether or not you where in Sutherland as well during the nomination; but I can say that I was, and it happened as it happened. There was no 'outsider' influence and the chances of it seem ridiculous as well.

I mean, think about it. The entire theory hinges on the idea that Cam kept Ryan out of the legislature to prevent him from running for leader when Dwain stepped aside.

Considering we lost Sutherland, by a wide margin (given that the SK Party took 58.47% of the vote total [http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/skvotes2011/ridings/053/]), had Ryan run in Sutherland he still could have lost the general election.

Furthermore, given that Ryan is running for leader now, the entire devious plan doesn't really make sense. If the goal was to knock him out of politics, it didn't work.

As such, given that the end goal of this conspiracy didn't work; not to mention the other problems with the theory, I still have to reject this wacky idea that Cam got personally involved in Sutherland.

And once more, I'll ask, if you want to continue to throw this allegation around; have the common decency to attach your name to the comments; because there's only one person acting shadowy regarding this issue, and right now it's you.

Anonymous said...


Scott said...

"Meili said in an interview he had heard stories that Saskatoon Massey Place NDP MLA Cam Broten had been helping Anwar's campaign, although he said he had no evidence that was the case."

So, Ryan suggested there was interference. But, Ryan personally retracted this accusation days later; http://www.globaltvbc.com/ex-ndp+leadership+candidate+ryan+meili+withdraws+from+provincial+election/84668/story.html

"In his statement withdrawing from the race, Meili said he had made a mistake by speculating and giving credence to the issue. He said he had apologized to both Broten and Anwar for his comments."

So, even though Ryan has admitted it was speculation (and seemingly given credit to it being nothing more than a rumour), you continue to hold it up. Once again, the facts just aren't on your side on this non-issue.

Jason Hammond said...

Hey Scott,

You cover a lot of ground in your post so I'm not going to try to answer all of your points. I would like to clarify a couple things though.

The essence of my post is this:

The party needs to rebuild & renew itself, especially after a missed opportunity in 2009 (for some of us, it was obvious at the time; for others, that's maybe clear in hindsight now?)

All current candidates will change things to one degree or another (and how much change is needed is probably one of the main themes developing in the race so far.)

If you look at their current positions, their length of time involved in the party, their support from (or of) other long-time insiders (which I'm not using a pejorative although it may sound that way), and the amount of change each candidate has already brought to the party through their ongoing involvement as evidence of their potential future actions, you can create a continuum of who will be the biggest change agents from least to most.

Ultimately, I rank it: Trent -> Cam -> Erin -> Ryan. (I would love to hear if you see it differently?)

Of course, this is all speculation but based in (circumstantial) evidence. Still, I could be wrong. There is a chance that Trent or Cam could be bigger change agents for the party than Erin or Ryan or that Ryan and Erin could end up as bigger status quo (again, not a pejorative) leaders than Trent or Cam if they were chosen. But everything I've seen makes that's highly unlikely as far as I'm concerned.

And contrary to what your posts says, I am not using these arguments to dismiss any of the candidates. I say right at the end of my post:

"You’re probably reading this and thinking I’m dismissing the other three and holding up Ryan as some perfect choice for the party. In a weird way, I think it may be the opposite."

That's because I recognize that, if Ryan is indeed representative of the most change for the party, he will also have the biggest mountain to climb.

I hope that clarifies my intent with my post a bit and why I see things the way I do.

If there are any of your specific points you'd like me to clarify further, let me know!


PS - at least we can all agree - robot arms for everyone!

Jim Fodey said...

(This comment is cross-posted at Head Tales .. to the article that you linked to above);

”Renewal’ and ‘change’ are not necessarily the same thing. I find that these two words are being used interchangeably in this posting.:
-Change:is defined as: “to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone:”
-Renewal is defined as: “to begin or take up again, as an acquaintance, a conversation, etc.; resume.”

Change means to move to something different while Renewal means to resume that which was.

After the 2011 provincial election, there is no doubt in my mind that renewal of the party is necessary.

The CCF/NDP has a long history in Saskatchewan and for the record, has been the most successful political party for over 60 years. Based on the policy and direction that we offered, the people of Saskatchewan gave the NDP electoral mandates to govern in 1991 – 1995 – 1999 – 2003. After the Devine era, we were the ‘change’ that the people selected to clean up the mess and get the province back on track.

No one should argue that after being in power from 1991 to 2007, the people of Saskatchewan opted for ‘change’ from the NDP. Something totally different is what they voted for in 2007,

As a long time New Dem, I don’t believe that the 2007 and 2011 elections were a directive from the people to scrap the values, policies and traditions of the New Democratic Party. The people used their democratic mandate to opt for new management and we respect the will of the people.

I am all for renewal. Each year, winter fades into spring and life renews itself across the land.

Not having won the electoral trust of the people in 2011 it is appropriate that the NDP do some self examination. Our current leadership campaign is a great way to discuss what we offer the people of Saskatchewan by way of economic and social direction. Renewal is healthy and appropriate.

However, change is not necessarily a component of renewal. If, in our renewal debate, we find that the NDP was incorrect in some policy area, or if we find that our direction was wrong, then I would say that change is needed.

Those who advocate for massive change to party policy and direction (simply because the people opted for different management in the election), may actually be jeopardizing the future of the Saskatchewan NDP.

Our renewal may require some change. It may require radical change. But I am not convinced that opting for the candidate who symbolizes the most change is actually what the Party needs right now. That is yet to be determined. Party renewal? YES … Change, however, requires a bit more introspection and sober debate.

Jason Hammond said...

I've replied to Jim on my original post.

(I should've posted my reply over on his site, Buckdog, to make this discussion *really* confusing to follow!)

Malcolm+ said...

Um, Saskatchewan HAS had a one term government. The Co-operative Government of 1929 - 1934 was a one term government.

What Saskatchewan has rarely seen before was the opposition party losing seats when a new government was first up for re-election. This arguably happened in 1909, though the significant change in the number of legislative seats complicates the issue. It also happened in 1975, although the Liberals losses had more to do with the rise of the Conservatives than the strength of the New Democrats.

But with no new party arising on the left, the 2011 NDP bled both seats and popular vote to the one-term government seeking re-election. This was virtually unprecedented.

Scott said...

Well, Malcolm, it would seem that I stand corrected...To a degree.

Given that the 1929 government was a Conservative Coalition with the Progressive Party and a handful of independents at the time, formed after a non-confidence measure bumped the Liberals from power, the Tories were never actually elected to form government in the first place.

I'm not undermining the legitimacy of a coalition government, but I am saying that we didn't directly 'elect' them to serve as government; they became government through being able to forge a coalition in the face of a failing minority government.

So, it might be splitting hairs, but in the firm definition of the words, we still haven't 'elected a one term government'; if only because the only one term government we had came about through legislative procedure rather than direct election.

However, I would hardly call the 2011 result for the NDP unprecedented; given that the caucus has been reduced to the same number it sat at in 1982.

As such, I don't think we're inside of uncharted territories here as a party. We do need to address the issues that brought us back to these levels, and selecting the right leader is a big part of that, but it's not a completely daunting task.