As I've mentioned before, we can expect the bulk of the votes cast in Saskatchewan's NDP leadership election to be cast before the convention next month - and over the past day, I've seen plenty of comments to the effect that members are receiving their mail-in ballots. So I'll take the opportunity to offer my endorsement - which for this campaign will include a full ranked ballot. (Note that this is entirely separate from my candidate rankings, which again are intended to reflect likelihood of victory rather than my own choice among the candidates.)
Before I get to the endorsement, though, I'll offer a reminder that this campaign offers a remarkably strong set of choices: there's obvious upside to each of the candidates, and none of the candidates has the type of fundamental flaw which would lead me to eliminate him from serious consideration. So a lower ranking shouldn't be taken to suggest that a candidate is anything less than well-suited for the NDP's leadership.
That said, I do think there's some room for differentiation based on a candidate's fit for the leadership responsibilities of managing a party (and eventually a government), and building and giving a voice to a progressive movement within Saskatchewan. So with that in mind, here's how I'll be ranking the candidates.
1. Ryan Meili
At the start of the campaign, I wondered whether Meili would look as strong in comparison to his competitors this time out as he did in 2009. But if anything, Meili has exceeded my expectations, ranking at or near the top of the field in all the criteria I'd look for in the next Saskatchewan NDP leader.
Since the start of the campaign (and indeed the previous release of his book), Meili has had an edge in presenting the most principled and best-developed vision for Saskatchewan. But he's also taken a back seat to nobody in his ability to defend that vision when challenged. And he's assembled an impressive organization featuring plenty of new members since his earlier campaign - helped by a quiet but engaging personality which may be an ideal antidote to the over-the-top attacks the new leader is bound to face.
2. Erin Weir
The choices become more difficult through the rest of the ballot, as there are obvious trade-offs to be made between the advocacy, personality and strategic functions of a leader. But I'll rank Weir second based on his significant strength in the former area: he rates near the top of the field in both his established commitment to progressive causes, and his ability to defend them publicly.
Meanwhile, Weir's areas for improvement should be relatively easily addressed if he were to become leader. While his leadership campaign has looked a bit more like a one-man band than would be ideal, he'd have an opportunity to grow into the role of managing an organization. And while he may not match the social ease of Meili or Wotherspoon, he's been plenty comfortable applying his sense of humour as a means of engaging audiences throughout the leadership debates.
3. Trent Wotherspoon
Wotherspoon's obvious strength in connecting personally with a wide variety of people remains the strongest element of his candidacy - even if it didn't prove enough to allow him to establish himself as a prohibitive favourite as once seemed to be the plan.
But Wotherspoon has made enough progress on the advocacy front throughout a grueling debate schedule to raise the prospect that he'll be able to connect with Saskatchewan residents through the media as well as in person - and he's taken on some significant policy causes within the leadership campaign. And those pluses place him ahead of his colleague in the legislature.
4. Cam Broten
Broten's understated but mostly effective campaign has been largely aimed toward avoiding exactly this type of ranking. But from my standpoint, his efforts to be seen as the safe candidate have backfired somewhat.
In a campaign where NDP members have every reason to discuss and set a new course, Broten has instead positioned himself as the standard-bearer for more of the same: policy proposals connected closely to the NDP's most recent policy book, a list of endorsers comparatively light on new faces, and most importantly Broten's inclination to portray other candidates' creative ideas as a negative while equivocating somewhat on policy himself. Those can be seen as strategic moves which are subject to reversal, or they can be taken as defining how Broten's leadership would look - but either way, Broten winds up at the back of the pack for now.