Thursday, March 05, 2009

On introductions

CanWest's report on last night's Wascana NDP forum for Saskatchewan's provincial leadership candidates covers the main themes of what Deb Higgins, Yens Pedersen and Ryan Meili had to say. But I'll add in a few details and thoughts from the event.

The most important story of the night wasn't so much the performance of any candidate as the overall turnout. A crowd of over 100 people - responding to invitations focused mostly on members of the Regina federal riding which contributes the least NDP votes, along with a few other scattered Regina supporters - packed into the 4 Seasons on a weeknight before the leadership race gets into anything approaching full swing to get their first chance to compare the candidates. Which would tend to signal that the contest may be set to attract significantly more interest than some might be expecting.

So what did those in attendance get to see? The first two speakers were Deb Higgins and Harry Van Mulligen (on behalf of Dwain Lingenfelter), and both stuck largely to a historical perspective in discussing the Allan Blakeney quote which provided the evening's topic. Interestingly enough, while both regularly dropped the names of Douglas, Blakeney and Romanow as examples of Saskatchewan influencing events despite its relatively small population, I don't recall hearing a single mention of Lorne Calvert - which strikes me as a reflecting a particularly surprising course for Higgins, who would seem to be the candidate with the most to gain by talking up Calvert's time in office and presenting herself as able to build on that foundation.

Van Mulligen's comments were most noteworthy in discussing the opportunity for the Saskatchewan NDP to transform health care nationally on the basis that other provinces see the party as the leader in the field. That could certainly create some promise to the extent it's tied to progressive suggestions - but it might lead Lingenfelter's eventual positioning on health care to come under even more careful scrutiny than it would otherwise have received.

Pedersen was the next speaker, and surprisingly the first to approach the concept of cycles of wealth and penury with ideas intended to alleviate the downside of Saskatchewan's dependence on commodity prices. While a few elements of his speaking style weren't ideal (in particular a distracting tendency to transition from one topic to another with a question-and-answer format), Pedersen nonetheless held up well in a strong field.

Like Pedersen's presentation, Meili's included a solid supply of jokes and applause lines to keep the crowd involved - another element that was surprisingly lacking in the remarks from the two more experienced politicians. Meili too turned the topic into a discussion of how to shift the economy toward long-term development rather than remaining stuck in boom and bust cycles, and was well received in doing so.

All in all, the event didn't do all that much to change the existing status of the campaign. And indeed, it was other developments yesterday (particularly Meili's endorsements from former cabinet ministers Peter Prebble and Lon Borgerson) that may ultimately do more to shape the narrative going forward.

But the forum nonetheless looks to have been an unqualified success in terms of both the candidates' performance, and the level of interest it generated. And both of those factors can only be a plus for the party regardless of how the rest of the leadership race plays out.

No comments:

Post a Comment