While there's been plenty of news in Saskatchewan's NDP leadership campaign over the past week, there's hasn't been much evidence to suggest the campaign's shape has changed to any great degree. So rather than explaining why this week's rankings stay the same, I'll include a comment on pluses for each candidate which haven't received much attention so far.
1. Ryan Meili (1)
While Meili has understandably focused on his apparent lead within the leadership race, he may also enjoy an advantage over his opponents when it comes to shifting gears once all the votes are in.
In particular, the "healthy society" theme used throughout the leadership campaign looks to be no less valuable as a matter of contrast against the Saskatchewan Party within the province's general political conversation. And so Meili will be able to build on his leadership campaign message from day one.
In contrast, each of the other candidates would have more work to do in transitioning from leadership campaign messages to themes intended to resonate with the general public. Neither Cam Broten's emphasis on experience and party-building nor Erin Weir's focus on presenting a plan figures to serve as a particularly useful point of distinction from the Saskatchewan Party in the eyes of the general public. And while Trent Wotherspoon's focus on well-being might offer the best alternative framework within the leadership campaign, he has some distance left to go in developing that message.
2. Cam Broten (2)
The extended set of Saskatchewan NDP leadership debates has not only allowed many different people to see the candidates in action, but has also enabled us to take a look at some skills and strategies which might not be obvious absent that regular interaction. And Broten has shown plenty of comfort with one of the key public roles of an opposition leader, using a "variations on a theme" questioning style to expand on preferred topics during the course of the debate schedule.
That's important due to the reality that stories often don't filter into the consciousness of the general public without first being subject to weeks of media discussion - even as the media is hesitant to discuss the same story for more than a news cycle or two (and normally has loads of distractions thanks to a constant flow of glossy government press releases).
As a result, an opposition party looking to get its message out needs to be able to find new angles on a basic story in order to turn it into a lasting issue. And while I haven't always agreed with Broten's choice of issues, he's been highly successful at building themes while asking questions even as he pushes respondents in unexpected directions.
3. Trent Wotherspoon (3)
I've talked somewhat before about Wotherspoon's ability to rise above the fray within the leadership campaign, but it deserves another mention here.
One of the iron laws of Canadian politics is that whoever auditions for the role of leader of the opposition in a general election tends to get it. And based on that theory, the relative combativeness of Broten or Weir in particular might limit the NDP's growth potential - at least until after another election cycle leads to a change in style and strategy.
Meanwhile, Wotherspoon has stood out from the pack in staying positive and friendly even while challenging his competitors in areas of disagreement. Which means that if there's any way of avoiding the trap set up by Wells' Rule #4, Wotherspoon may be the best positioned to find it.
4. Erin Weir (4)
Finally, while I've criticized Weir's campaign at times for being a bit too quick to promote his every media appearance, I'll acknowledge the flip side to that point.
While the other candidates have worked mostly to build within their own networks of supporters rather than focusing on media outreach, Weir has spent plenty of time (and applied plenty of media savvy) in making sure that NDP values get heard by a broader range of readers and viewers. And that figures to be a valuable contribution to the party's effort to reach the general public at a time when the Sask Party/corporate line all too often goes unopposed on key issues.