NDP hope­fuls need to start say­ing some­thing

There’s been lots of Wall-bash­ing but lit­tle on pol­icy in this lead­er­ship race

Regina Leader-Post - - OPINION - MUR­RAY MANDRYK Mandryk is the po­lit­i­cal colum­nist for the Regina Leader-Post. mmandryk@post­media.com

Whether the NDP govern­ment is ready to gov­ern Saskatchewan again is a ques­tion that hasn’t re­ceived se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion for a decade.

Not since Premier Brad Wall’s first suc­cess­ful cam­paign in 2007 — a win that was fol­lowed by Sask. Party land­slides in 2011 and 2016 — has any­one se­ri­ously en­ter­tained the no­tion of the NDP re-form­ing govern­ment.

In fact, it was the fond­est hope of the Sask. Party and the right that a grow­ing “new Saskatchewan,” with 120,000 more peo­ple, had for­ever changed to a more busi­ness­minded, en­tre­pre­neur­ial prov­ince.

And given the Sask. Party’s base of 30 ru­ral seats in the 61-seat Saskatchewan leg­isla­tive assem­bly, whether the NDP is cur­rently in a po­si­tion to form govern­ment re­mains a le­git­i­mate ques­tion.

How­ever, with spring opinion polls show­ing the NDP ac­tu­ally ahead of the Sask. Party, the Sask. Party govern­ment some­what im­plod­ing since Wall’s re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment in the past month and the NDP’s own con­cur­rent lead­er­ship race, what the NDP stands for and how it con­ducts it­self is about to come un­der in­creased scru­tiny.

To­day, the NDP’s pro­vin­cial coun­cil will ex­am­ine the no­tion of mov­ing up the date of its May 6 lead­er­ship vote — os­ten­si­bly, to be bet­ter pre­pared for a snap elec­tion by the new Sask. Party leader who will be se­lected on Jan. 27 or to have the new NDP leader face-to-face with new Sask. Party premier in the spring ses­sion.

Nei­ther seems an es­pe­cially bril­liant rea­son to dis­rupt an al­ready-ex­ist­ing process for which mem­ber­ship sales will now have to cut off ear­lier, po­ten­tially dis­ad­van­tag­ing one can­di­date or the other. Some in the Ryan Meili camp are cer­tainly sus­pi­cious that bump­ing up the date is more ad­van­ta­geous to Trent Wother­spoon.

And while one can see why many in the NDP might want to get on with this mori­bund lead­er­ship process, which has al­ready dragged on for some 17 months since for­mer leader Cam Broten re­signed af­ter his de­feat in the April 2016 elec­tion, a quicker vote won’t help us un­der­stand any bet­ter what the NDP is now all about.

At a time when the NDP is just start­ing to come un­der in­creased scru­tiny, maybe now would be bet­ter to un­der­score that your own lead­er­ship is as open, fair, demo­cratic and thor­ough as pos­si­ble. (At the very least, that would con­trast with the cur­rent go­ings-on in the Sask. Party lead­er­ship.)

Af­ter all, one big problem the NDP al­ready has in a prov­ince with a pro­found split be­tween ru­ral and ur­ban vot­ers is that there just isn’t much an NDP lead­er­ship can of­fer pol­icy-wise that will likely cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion in the ru­ral half of the prov­ince, which hasn’t had much pos­i­tive rea­son for the past few decades to vote NDP.

Meili has cre­ated some waves by re­ject­ing both cor­po­rate and union do­na­tions in his lead­er­ship cam­paign, but that may be a bet­ter is­sue for po­lit­i­cal watch­ers than the pub­lic at large.

In fact, about the only other lead­er­ship pol­icy we’ve heard is Meili’s call for a $15 an hour min­i­mum wage — some­thing that won’t play all that well in the business com­mu­nity and ru­ral Saskatchewan where a lot of small busi­nesses and farm­ers pay min­i­mum wage.

It is ex­ceed­ingly thin soup for a prov­ince that’s hun­gry for real so­lu­tions. They should and will de­mand much more.

At a time when Saskatchewan is strug­gling with stag­nant job cre­ation, ser­vice cuts, tax in­creases and ris­ing debt, we need some­thing more than, “Wall and the Sask. Party got it all wrong.”

What are the NDP can­di­dates’ own debt re­duc­tion strate­gies? For all the crit­i­cism of creep­ing pri­va­ti­za­tion — P3 builds for high­ways and schools, pri­vate MRI clin­ics and sell-off/clo­sures of ev­ery­thing from STC to all or part of SaskTel — what are the vi­able al­ter­na­tives be­yond more debt-cre­at­ing spend­ing? What tax regime — in­clud­ing car­bon taxes and changes to fed­eral taxes — do NDP lead­er­ship can­di­dates sup­port?

Un­til NDP lead­er­ship hope­fuls starts of­fer­ing their own broad-based pol­icy so­lu­tions, it may re­main hard for many in the prov­ince to take the party se­ri­ously.

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