Saturday, October 14, 2017

Leadership 2018 Candidate Profile: Ryan Meili

As I've noted before, Saskatchewan's NDP leadership campaign will involve some very familiar candidates. And so my starting point in analyzing the race will be to review the previous leadership campaign run by both Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon - with a particular focus on anything that's changed since 2013.

With that in mind, here are Meili's candidate profile and campaign review from the 2013 race - which mostly hold up for now. And in particular, Meili's policy focus only seems to be getting stronger with time, as he's started this campaign with both a strong set of core principles and a plan to fund them.

The main differences for Meili since the last leadership campaign of course involve his development of political organizations: first in founding Upstream, then in getting elected as an MLA. And those should offer some comfort to voters who may have previously perceived Meili as lacking political experience. (That said, anybody treating a track record in elected office as the main factor in selecting a candidate will figure to be more interested in Wotherspoon's longer tenure in the Legislature - not to mention his time as the NDP's interim leader).

But the central reality surrounding Meili's campaign is this factoid from the previous two leadership campaigns:
Notwithstanding an entirely different type of leadership campaign and plenty of new participants within his own camp, Meili's final vote total of 4,120 was a jump of exactly 18 votes from his second-ballot total in 2009.
Meili thus has a well-established level of support he can likely match again. But where can he gain ground in order to change the final outcome?

There's some possibility Meili could win simply by holding his past vote count if the absence of Cam Broten as a competing candidate results in less organization and votes against him. But it doesn't seem likely that the membership rolls will wind up substantially smaller at a point when the public desire for an alternative government is much stronger than it was during the last campaign in particular.

If Meili is going to add to his vote totals, he'll need to find support beyond what he's been able to achieve already. Among current members, that will likely involve a combination of establishing that he's been able to improve in areas which have previously been perceived as weaknesses, and making the case that there's a need for more change internally than Wotherspoon will offer. And beyond partisan lines, it figures to involve reaching out to people who have been disillusioned in the past - with Meili's pledge to practice what he preaches about campaign finance serving as an important starting point.

Of course, while Meili will be looking to win over supporters from beyond past party lines, he'll also have to deal with the effect of forces outside the party on the leadership campaign. Much of Saskatchewan's media still seems determined to dismiss Meili, even while grudgingly recognizing that he's the only candidate in either leadership race doing much to advance any policy discussion. And the Saskatchewan Party began putting a target on Meili's back even while Wotherspoon was still the interim leader.

All of which means that Meili's past leadership campaign success probably isn't enough to make him a clear favourite to win at the start of the new campaign. And he'll likely need to aim substantially higher than he's been able to reach before in order to finally win the opportunity to lead Saskatchewan's NDP.

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