Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On withdrawal

Needless to say, Ryan Meili's withdrawal from the Saskatoon Sutherland nomination race makes for a disappointment for many within the Saskatchewan NDP - not to mention a shock coming less than a week away from the riding's nomination meeting. But let's take a closer look at what his departure figures to mean both for Meili and the party.

From Meili's perspective, the nomination race looks to have gone wrong in nearly every way that last year's leadership race went right. Instead of starting out as a virtual unknown who was able to make a positive impression without facing a lot of opponents' potshots, Meili began the nomination race as the front-runner - and the obvious target for the other candidates (with going especially negative for a nomination campaign).

What's more, instead of being able to count on broad appeal to boost his candidacy, Meili ran into the realities of local politics where a highly focused effort on a single cultural community by a well-connected candidate can swamp the membership numbers in the balance of a riding. And indeed, the race may raise some reason for wider discussion as to whether the NDP should work on eliminating any perceived barriers to membership in order to facilitate broader decision-making at the riding level.

But while Anwar's impressive membership sales raised questions about whether Meili would be likely to win, they hardly figures to explain his dropping out of the race without even testing whether Anwar's supporters would turn out.

Instead, I have to wonder whether the biggest issue for Meili was his own response to the challenges - including the recent jawing between his camp and Cam Broten (wherever it may have originated). During a sometimes-acrimonious leadership race, Meili did a remarkable job of staying above the fray. But he apparently wasn't quite so successful in the nomination race, and that might explain why he wouldn't want to keep going from a personal standpoint even if there was still a substantial chance of winning the nomination.

If there's any good news, it's an important caveat in Meili's announcement - that he "(intends) to continue to work for a better world, but not by seeking public office". And while many of us hoped to see what he could do as an MLA, there's plenty of reason for optimism that a leader who managed to inspire many an NDP member can still have a substantial impact in venues other than the Legislature.

So what does Meili's departure mean for the party as a whole? By all accounts, Anwar had already managed to achieve front-runner status in the nomination race - so barring a weak turnout among his newly-recruited supporters, it might not affect the immediate chances of taking Saskatoon Sutherland.

Instead, the more obvious potential impact is the prospect that some of Meili's enthusiastic leadership supporters might become similarly disillusioned by the electoral process. And the party would be well served to make sure that both Meili and his grassroots movement are seen to have a voice as it develops its slate of candidates and policies for 2011.

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