Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On potential for change

Stephen Larose offers up his own closing thoughts on the NDP's leadership convention. But while a few of his points are definitely ones to keep in mind, he also looks to go even further than Murray Mandryk this morning in looking for problems where they don't exist - particularly in his description of the result as "the worst of all possible worlds for Dwain Lingenfelter and the party".

So what reasoning does Larose offer up for that claim? Let's take a look:
Firstly, imagine what would have happened if Link’s ‘Waterhengate’ had gone undetected? Well, Link would have had a first round victory by a substantial margin … instead, he goes to a second ballot and has to face the fact that a good chunk of his party will demand to have their voices heard, especially on nuclear energy. Lingenfelter is not going to go in as the Master of His Domain: he’s got to compromise, schmooze, and massage some wounded egos. He’s not good at that. Never has been. It never was in his job description: it never was what he was hired for.
Now, it's probably true that Lingenfelter personally would have seen his position as stronger if he could more plausibly claim not to have to listen to anybody else within the party. But it's hard to see how that would be a better end result for anybody involved in the longer term: the party aside from Lingenfelter would obviously have been worse off in both the short and long term for being given no say in the NDP's direction, while Lingenfelter himself is probably best off dealing with any weaknesses in accomodating party members now rather than discovering only in 2011 that the base wasn't behind him.
Secondly, I’m more than a bit surprised about Higgins’ poor showing. I thought the coalition that elected Lorne Calvert would have done better. This, frankly, shouldn’t bode well for the NDP establishment.
Of course, the problem with this paragraph is that it neglects the fact that the "establishment" under Calvert was split between three different camps - including the winning one as well as that of the near-miss runner-up.

Mind you, as I've mentioned before I was surprised that Higgins didn't do more to position herself as the Calvert candidate. But given that she chose not to, it makes no sense to equate her leadership result with the strength of the party's recent governing structure.
And lastly, there’s some serious problems for the NDP in its ability to recruit members and attract new ones (membership – especially membership sales – is critical to the NDP because its volunteer base, theoretically, offsets the deeper financial pockets of the Sask. Party’s corporate backers). The NDP had about 18,000 members voting at the 2001 convention which brought Lorne Calvert to the premiers’ chair (Wikipedia): just over 9,000 voted on June 6, with another 3,600 members sitting this one out (Murray Mandryk, one of the few reasons to buy the Leader-Post).

So either there’s a number of NDP members who feel alienated from the leadership process of their own party … or there’s a couple more Waterhengate-style membership sale fiascoes the party doesn’t want to talk about.
Leaving aside the last evidence-free assertion, it's undoubtedly true that the relatively low number of votes from an already modest total membership hints at some issues in member involvement which the NDP will need to deal with. And presumably that will be one of the first tasks which Lingenfelter looks to undertake.

But if revitalizing the party is indeed the next priority for the NDP, surely that's going to be far more likely to happen in a party which gives its members a meaningful role in shaping its future direction. Which brings us to Larose's finale:
All in all, the NDP has a lot of work to do in order to convince Saskatchewanians that they’re ready for governing this province. A lot of people within the NDP think that getting re-elected is merely a matter of marching. I don’t think they really understand how the psychology of this province has changed: and they’re unable or unwilling to contemplate the changes that they need to make in order to take on Brad Wall in a meaningful way.
Which is precisely why a Lingenfelter romp would have been likely to lead toward disaster, since that's the result which might have allowed Link to rest on his laurels and figure nothing about his leadership strategy needed to change.

But after narrowly hanging on to win a race which once seemed to be no contest, there's every reason for Lingenfelter to keep an open mind about every available opportunity to bolster the NDP from within and pick up some new ideas from his younger opponents. And while it remains to be seen how far the party will get in that process over the next couple of years, it's surely likely to get further based on the role played by new political tactics in the leadership campaign.

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