Monday, June 25, 2012

Insider tradeoffs

Postmedia and CTV have both reported on how this weekend's #skndp12 convention may shape the Saskatchewan NDP's 2013 leadership race. But it's worth noting how the major split among prospective candidates may affect the party in the months to come.

Here's CTV's juxtaposition of a couple of the putative candidates' views as to whether the NDP's next leader needs to be an MLA:
Weir doesn't think the fact that he is not in caucus puts him at a disadvantage.

"There is a big challenge ahead of re-building the NDP and that's work that has to be done outside of the legislative building, so I think it's advantageous to have someone outside of caucus," says Weir.

But some potential candidates think otherwise. MLA Cam Broten is the NDP Health Critic. He says experience on the floor of the legislature is something the membership will look for in a leader. "It's up to the party membership, but I think it's important to pick someone who has experience and can plug into what people in the province care about." 
At the same time, one of the weekend's more noteworthy presentations discussed the challenges facing the nine current MLAs in trying to hold the government to account. And if a third or more of the caucus winds up entering the leadership race, that task may only become more difficult while the leadership race is in progress.

Under most circumstances, we'd expect to see leadership contenders leave their critic roles during a campaign. But when all of the current NDP MLAs are already juggling daunting sets of issue responsibilities, it may not be realistic to expect a half-dozen who don't run for the leadership to see their own workloads bumped up by another 50% during a six-month campaign period.

Mind you, I'd argue there's a ready answer to that problem if it arises. In fact, the party needs to be building a set of high-profile critics and potential cabinet members wider than the current caucus alone - and that might involve assigning responsibility to some individuals who don't currently hold seats in the legislature. But such a move by John Nilson on an interim basis would hardly fit the message that there's a radical difference between MLAs and non-MLAs in a person's ability to reach and consult with Saskatchewan's citizens.

Finally, there's always the possibility that the current MLAs might hold onto their critic responsibilities while running for the leadership - which would be the outcome that best fits the theory espoused by Broten. But that would significantly limit the ability of MLA leadership candidates to chart their own course during the portion of the leadership campaign when the legislature is sitting.

Of course, once the campaign begins in earnest we'll surely see far more important debates than the exact significance of time spent as an MLA. But it's well worth keeping in mind that the jockeying for position among leadership candidates isn't taking place in a vacuum - and members will have every reason to watch which contenders' plans and messages best fit the resources and realities of today's Saskatchewan NDP.

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