Sask. Party, NDP lead­er­ship races have fa­mil­iar ring

Can­di­dates are of­fer­ing lit­tle we haven’t heard be­fore

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION - GREG FINGAS

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.

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