Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On positioning

I've mentioned a few times that I'd expect Dwain Lingenfelter to come around to the idea of joining with the bulk of the Saskatchewan NDP in opposing nuclear power as a matter of political calculation even if he doesn't change his mind personally. And the Star Phoenix' utterly misguided editorial along with Les MacPherson's love letter to Brad Wall look to offer an ideal starting point to expand on that view.

About the one relevant point which MacPherson actually makes is that sitting on the fence when it comes to nuclear power doesn't figure to be a viable strategy:
New Democrats are further divided over nuclear development. Lingenfelter has said he is for it, his party, against it. Successive NDP leaders managed to tiptoe around this contradiction, but tiptoeing won't be as easy when it comes to taking sides on nuclear power generation, as it seems we must, and probably sooner rather than later.
So given that the issue isn't going away, what are the NDP's options? The Star Phoenix looks to present a false choice between being in tune with the province generally or some marginalized (even if "not-uncommon") view that we should focus on alternatives to nuclear power. But let's consider what happens if Lingenfelter buys that argument.

At this point, there isn't much room for doubt that Wall and company are looking to make nuclear power the big issue going into the 2011 election. And they'll have even less reason to change course if the NDP doesn't launch a full-on counter to the Sask Party's direction.

After all, if the main opposition party's response on the issue which dominates political coverage over the next two years is "we'd do the same through a slightly different process", that answer figures to convince exactly zero nuclear supporters to actually join the NDP (since the Sask Party would already be offering exactly what they want) while undermining the party's own base support. Which sounds to me like a recipe to hand Wall an increased majority.

On the other hand, by navigating away from support for nuclear power and toward alternatives, the NDP can turn the tables on Wall, creating some real wedges which make life difficult for the Sask Party. With Link already planning to repeat his journey to every riding in the province on an yearly basis, wouldn't it make an ideal point of contrast for him to be able to bring along an outline of a renewable energy project which the NDP would support in each one, forcing Sask Party MLAs to defend centralizing power production elsewhere rather than bringing development to their own ridings?

And based on the turnout at the public consultation meetings so far, there can't be much doubt that there are thousands of citizens fired up to turn the tide of public opinion which has thus far been shaped largely by the pro-nuke tag-team of the Wall government and Bruce Power. Which means that the current polls likely don't reflect what the public balance would be if the NDP actually takes a stand against nuclear power.

Simply put, there aren't a lot of issues where the NDP can create enough of a contrast to bring down a government which has mostly sailed through nearly two years - and Lingenfelter's focus on crown corporations almost certainly won't fit the bill unless Wall is crazy enough to outright sell off one or two before the election. But the nuclear question is the lone obvious one which inspires enough passion to potentially create an anti-Wall groundswell. And even allowing for the fact that Lingenfelter personally might be sympathetic to the Sask Party's stance, it's beyond me how a party focused on the best chance of winning in 2011 could voluntarily take a pass on the issue.

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