Sask. Party, NDP leadership races have familiar ring
Candidates are offering little we haven’t heard before
In principle, this should be a time of nearly limitless possibilities in Saskatchewan politics. Both the governing Saskatchewan Party and official Opposition NDP are in the middle of leadership campaigns, which should ideally allow for meaningful discussion about our goals as a province, with the prospect of political change to follow shortly thereafter.
But the story of both leadership campaigns thus far is instead one of familiarity and continuity.
The only actual or anticipated entrants to the Saskatchewan Party’s race so far are five members of Brad Wall’s cabinet and his former deputy minister — all of whom are inextricably tied to the public fatigue and disgust Wall’s departure was intended to escape.
Indeed, the only apparent countercurrent against the “more of the same” message from the Saskatchewan Party’s race thus far is the effort some candidates have made to disavow everything, which might have previously made them familiar to Saskatchewan’s public.
After serving as the face of the Saskatchewan Party’s callous cuts to social services, Tina Beaudry-Mellor has suddenly started questioning decisions made affecting her own ministerial portfolio. And even more glaringly, Jeremy Harrison started his campaign by loudly and implausibly proclaiming his personal outrage at the Global Transportation Hub scandal, which is rapidly engulfing Bill Boyd along with Wall, after having spent most of his recent time in the legislature shouting down anybody who dared to raise questions about it.
Meanwhile, Wall’s tiresomely empty bluster against federal action on climate change, which serves as the prime example of his loss of touch as a leader, has been echoed by every single candidate who has deigned to discuss policy at all. (Though given the pattern of leadership contenders denouncing everything done in their previous areas of responsibility, we can expect former Environment Minister Scott Moe to start advocating for a carbon tax any day now.)
What’s more, amid the rush by the current Saskatchewan Party hierarchy to jockey for position, there’s little indication of anybody offering an outside choice. While insiders benefited from more opportunity to prepare for the campaign, the combination of a high entry fee and the immediate influx of senior ministers into the race may have closed the door on any new blood.
All of which is to say that no matter who emerges as the winner, the Saskatchewan Party’s self-proclaimed renewal seems likely to amount to little more than a less appealing face for the same old closed party.
For the NDP, there’s no doubt that members will have a distinct choice. But it’s not clear that the campaign will cover much new ground.
Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon were the second- and third-ranked candidates in the party’s previous leadership campaign, meaning they’ve already made their case to voters — and been evaluated by NDP members — in a leadership context.
And both have only increased their profile in the interim: Meili by founding the Upstream think-tank and then winning election to the legislature, and Wotherspoon by ably holding the NDP’s interim leadership position after Cam Broten’s defeat.
With Meili and Wotherspoon both pursuing the leadership with well-established campaign infrastructure and support bases, nearly any other candidate would face a daunting task trying to achieve a bare threshold of relevance. And so a leadership position that should be highly appealing in light of the growing prospect of a change in government likely seems out of reach for new candidates.
Of course, new entrants might yet shake up both leadership campaigns. But there’s a distinct prospect that leadership election processes with the theoretical potential to raise public interest and involvement will ultimately change very little.
Greg Fingas is a Regina lawyer, blogger and freelance political commentator who has written about provincial and national issues from a progressive NDP perspective since 2005.
His column appears every week.