Sask. Party can­di­dates mak­ing this race a closed-ranks af­fair

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

For much of the past decade, Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party feasted on a re­mark from for­mer NDP econ­omy min­is­ter El­don Lauter­milch jus­ti­fy­ing Saskatchewan’s lack of pop­u­la­tion growth.

In his clumsy at­tempt to jus­tify on­go­ing pop­u­la­tion loss in the prov­ince, Lauter­milch ar­gued this could be a good thing be­cause the gov­ern­ment’s then-grow­ing riches would be less dis­persed. For­ever and a day, Wall pinned Lauter­milch as the “more for the rest of us” min­is­ter. How­ever, here’s the two-fold irony today:

The Saskatchewan Party gov­ern­ment’s fore­most ex­cuse for many of its cur­rent prob­lems (i.e. over­crowded el­e­men­tary and high school classes) is that it doesn’t have the re­sources to meet the de­mands of pop­u­la­tion in­crease. This would be the same party that has de­cried for the past 10 years that it has been left with an in­fra­struc­ture deficit. If ever there was a party now demon­strat­ing it has lit­tle in­ter­est grow­ing from its own white, mid­dle-class and largely ru­ral/ busi­ness de­mo­graph­ics, it’s the Sask. Party dur­ing this lead­er­ship race.

This was a Sask. Party prob­lem long be­fore Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Bron­wyn Eyre’s bizarre re­ply to the throne speech and her en­su­ing non-apol­ogy for mis­lead­ing the leg­is­la­ture and pub­lic on the na­ture of the First Na­tions/treaty cur­ricu­lum that many see as noth­ing more than a dog whis­tle to the right wing.

It is a party that seems to have for­got­ten its mas­sive 2011 elec­tion vic­tory was achieved by reach­ing be­yond the base and even be­yond the soc­cer-mom sub­urbs into in­ner-city seats like Regina Dou­glas Park.

Last Fri­day’s Saskatchewan Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion (STF) con­fer­ence — ad­mit­tedly, tra­di­tional hos­tile ter­ri­tory for the Sask. Party — was lit­er­ally an in­vi­ta­tion for cur­rent Sask. Party hope­fuls to demon­strate they could still be that party of 2011.

Only Saska­toon con­tenders Ken Chevel­day­off and Gord Wyant both­ered to show up to an event where mem­bers of a huge, provincewide or­ga­ni­za­tion were re­quested to con­sider tak­ing out party mem­ber­ships.

The rest? Well, we know Alanna Koch was at the Cana­dian Agri Mar­ket­ing Awards in Regina the pre­vi­ous day. Tina Beaudry-Mellor wasn’t there, but did ac­knowl­edge the event on so­cial me­dia. Scott Moe was silent.

Of course, both NDP lead­er­ship hope­fuls Ryan Meili and Trent Wother­spoon made the most of their in­vite, tak­ing their shots at Eyre and the gov­ern­ment.

Sure, the STF was likely mak­ing a bit of po­lit­i­cal mis­chief for a gov­ern­ing Sask. Party that pro­claimed teach­ers and ev­ery other pub­lic ser­vant were mer­i­to­ri­ous of 3.5-per-cent wage roll­back. But party mem­ber­ships were there for the tak­ing.

That the per­ceived lead­ers weren’t there fits the on­go­ing nar­ra­tive. Af­ter tightly reined lead­er­ship de­bates where con­tro­ver­sial is­sues and ques­tions are ex­ceed­ingly lim­ited, this will only in­crease the vol­ume on the no-longer-so-quiet grum­bling that there is a tacit ef­fort by the party and gov­ern­ment hi­er­ar­chy to keep ranks closed, thus giv­ing Koch a bet­ter shot at win­ning.

It is the duty of any party ex­ec­u­tive and staff to seize any op­por­tu­nity to draw in new mem­bers as a po­ten­tial source of cash and foot sol­diers.

That said, lead­er­ship can­di­dates with ev­ery­thing to gain by at­tract­ing new mem­bers don’t seem to be do­ing much, ei­ther.

Only Beaudry-Mellor has ac­tively raised the need to reach out to new mem­bers — again, some­thing that’s just Pol­i­tics 101 for par­ties in con­stant need of do­na­tion cash and loyal sol­diers to spread the word.

De­spite the fact that the hall­mark of this Sask. Party gov­ern­ment has been the prov­ince’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, we just aren’t see­ing signs of any camp mak­ing a con­certed ef­fort to sell mem­ber­ships to the prov­ince’s newer ar­rivals ... or any­one who hasn’t held a Sask. Party mem­ber­ship be­fore.

And even if the STF or First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties aren’t ex­actly a lu­cra­tive source of Sask. Party mem­ber­ships, reach­ing out to them makes a pow­er­ful state­ment to those that gave you big wins in 2011 and 2016 that this is still a big-tent party.

In­stead, Sask. Party hope­fuls seem to be mak­ing a big state­ment that they fear their own party and base and fear growth.

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