Saturday, October 14, 2017

Leadership 2018 Candidate Profile: Trent Wotherspoon

As with Ryan Meili, I'll start my look at Trent Wotherspoon's new run for the Saskatchewan NDP leadership by pointing back to his previous candidate profile and campaign review. And despite all that's changed in the meantime, this campaign starts with an even stronger sense of deja vu for Wotherspoon's candidacy than for Meili's.

Wotherspoon's 2013 run began with the largest and showiest launch of any of the candidates. But any hope that a shock and awe approach would give him an aura of inevitability soon gave way to the realities of the campaign - and he wound up finishing a relatively distant third in the vote count, despite doing better in other metrics such as endorsements, fund-raising and personal favourability.

Since then, Wotherspoon's most obvious opportunity to build his profile has been his tenure as the NDP's interim leader - which certainly worked wonders in allowing members to see him as the face of the party and ensuring that they'd be exposed to his retail political skills. His time in that role saw the NDP gain strength (thanks in no small part to the Saskatchewan Party's abomination of a 2017 budget), and seems to have cemented his place as the leading candidate of the party establishment.

But then, Wotherspoon likely had that title at the start of the 2013 race as well before Cam Broten managed to wrest it away. And some of the same issues which hurt Wotherspoon's cause then look likely to resurface again in the new campaign.

Wotherspoon's policy offerings are again on the light side so far in the current race. And while there's time to fix that in part by releasing more platform planks, the hesitation to engage on all but the most friendly terrain also reflects the relative difficulty he had in responding to challenges in the previous leadership race.

Meanwhile, Wotherspoon's place as the insider candidate itself has come at a cost. A party which has been burned twice in a row voting for an establishment choice may be prepared to look for something new - particularly as less-conventional strategies have succeeded in other jurisdictions. And Wotherspoon's reversal of his one-time assurance that he wouldn't seek the permanent leadership may create a trust gap which will be difficult to navigate.

In sum, Wotherspoon has a ways to go in establishing that he can build on his personal appeal and base of support to earn the leadership. And while he's likely a slight favourite at this stage, it's entirely foreseeable that the campaign may again erode whatever advantage Wotherspoon now holds.

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