NDP hopefuls need to start saying something
There’s been lots of Wall-bashing but little on policy in this leadership race
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.