Sunday, January 21, 2018

On permanent repercussions

When Trent Wotherspoon first announced that he was considering pursuing the Saskatchewan NDP's permanent leadership, I pointed out some of my concerns about how his previous tenure as interim leader - when he was elected after offering his assurance that he wouldn't seek the permanent position - might result in question marks over the leadership campaign. 

Now, a prime example of the problem with Wotherspoon's about-face has turned into a campaign flashpoint, as the administrators of the Save Saskatchewan Libraries group have issued an endorsement of Wotherspoon which couldn't be any more closely tied to his role as interim leader.

To be clear, I don't take issue with the administrators themselves taking a position in the NDP's leadership campaign.

The NDP should be eager to hear new voices participating in the leadership campaign, particularly ones who have so effectively marshaled widespread support for Saskatchewan's key public institutions. And the fact that a group was generally intended to be non-partisan doesn't mean its administrators should have any hesitation in applying their experience and opinions to the leadership campaign.

But that's an entirely separate issue from the need for fairness in the leadership campaign itself. And to see how that's been affected, here's Christine Freethy's own account as to how she came to endorse Wotherspoon:
I literally GOOGLED “Saskatchewan NDP” and said to the first person who answered the phone “I am running that library facebook group and I think you guys need to get your shit together and help us” Later that day was the first time I ever talked to Trent Wotherspoon.

At the time, Trent Wotherspoon was interim leader. And I am a political nobody who lives in Rabbit Lake. But he had seen the group and was plugged in enough with Carla Beck and the staff to know I was reaching out. I told him my plan - a non-partisan movement to bring attention to the library cut and force Brad Wall to reverse his decision. Trent listened and said “What can I and the NDP do to help your group?”
Needless to say, there's little reason to think Ryan Meili (or any other person who might plausibly have held a leadership position) would have done any differently given the opportunity. But only Wotherspoon enjoyed that. 

Because Wotherspoon was in the interim leader role based in part on his promise not to seek the permanent leadership, he was charged with leading the NDP's communication with Freethy, with the party's staff assisting him in that effort. And he was thus able to build a close relationship with an outside group which was doing widespread organizing complementary to that of the party - resulting in an endorsement which reached a wide range of actual and potential members just in time for the membership deadline.

There may not be much which can be done to alleviate that gap now. But in comparing the candidates, the NDP's members will need to test their own impressions of Wotherspoon to see how they might reflect the advantage he captured in the interim role. And there may be significant legitimacy issues for the party as a whole if the race ends up turning on a candidate's gaining an advantage from a broken promise.

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