In principle, we might have expected the first debate after the holiday break to signal any change in direction from Saskatchewan's NDP leadership candidates. But it was instead the Weyburn debate which saw a couple of significant changes in tone and strategy (on top of the usual number of noteworthy developments).
While the candidates' opening statements have mostly seen only modest changes throughout the campaign, two new developments stand out from the above.
Erin Weir's opening featured far more discussion of principles as opposed to talking points than we've seen from him in the past. Yes, Weir continued to highlight costing and planning as central themes - but he did so only after emphasizing the importance of collective ownership and equal distribution of resources as the end goals to be pursued. And that explanation and advocacy as to what he's trying to accomplish set out a much-needed foundation for the message he's chosen to get there.
Meanwhile, Ryan Meili's strategy seems to have taken a noteworthy turn from merely introducing himself as an individual, to presenting a preview of how he'd deal with the Saskatchewan Party as leader of the opposition. Rather than emphasizing his well-worn metaphor of an "outside voice" within the NDP, Meili's opening honed in on the zero-dissent corporatism being preached by the Wall government and emphasized both the importance of actually being able to speak up in response to business demands, and some of the issues where there's the greatest opportunity to succeed with an alternative vision.
Those look to be the developments with the most potential impact on the balance of the campaign - as they reflect conscious choices on the part of the candidates as to what we'll see emphasized in the weeks to come. But as usual, there were also a few interesting exchanges within the candidate questions and answers.
In the first round of questioning, Trent Wotherspoon tried to replicate his success in challenging Cam Broten on outside ownership of Saskatchewan farmland. But not surprisingly, Broten was fully prepared to answer the issue this time - meaning that Wotherspoon wasn't able to create the gap in perspectives that worked to his advantage in the previous debate.
In turn, Wotherspoon faced some questions seeking specifics - including one set from Meili on greenhouse gas emissions, and one from Broten on party and policy structures. And in both cases, he stuck with his more general positions rather than rising to the challenge to go into more detail.
Wotherspoon did offer the most noteworthy response to any of the audience questions, noting the connection between an Idle No More rally and a party event dealing with inequality and poverty held the same day and acknowledging he could have done more to connect the two. But we'll see how many opportunities he has to put that type of recognition into action in the rest of the leadership campaign - as there's obviously less value in noticing a missed opening than actually putting the opportunity to good use.
Finally, the second round of questioning included a new challenge from Meili to Broten about his involvement in movement politics. And the issue looks to provide a valuable counter for Meili as both Broten and Wotherspoon play up the value of experience on the electoral scene.