Saturday, May 23, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Deb Higgins Government Projection

In assessing Deb Higgins' likely performance as premier, the elephant in the room is naturally her track record as Labour Minister. As I've mentioned in my earlier posts, the premier's job necessarily includes both deciding among competing options, and working with stakeholders to implement the best one possition.

Of course, Higgins' public profile prior to the leadership race was based on her work on available hours legislation for part-time workers. And unfortunately, that sequence of events stands out as a textbook example of how not to shepherd an idea from near-implementation into reality. With only one step between already-passed legislation and proclamation, Higgins got caught on the defensive in the face of apparently-unexpected opposition, then wound up alienating supporters as well by giving in to business pressure.

The good news for Higgins supporters is that from her leadership campaign so far, it looks exceedingly unlikely that Higgins would repeat that same type of mistake. Instead, the main question surrounding Higgins now is whether her desire to avoid the same type of situation would cause her to adopt an overly cautious stance rather than leading toward substantial policy innovation and development.

Despite her need to make up ground on Dwain Lingenfelter's front-running campaign, Higgins' policy proposals have been the least ambitious offered by any of the candidates. I've noted before the incremental nature of most of her ideas - but on further review, it's even more striking how her ideas which aren't a matter of pure incremental change on current practice are almost without exception drawn from recent NDP reports or in practice elsewhere in Canada rather than personal vision.

On the bright side, such a strategy might succeed in minimizing possible opposition to those ideas. And to the extent Higgins is able to meet some of the targets within her proposals, that would undoubtedly be a positive outcome for the province.

But the cautious strategy also means that a Higgins government would figure to operate purely within the province's current political window rather than making a substantial effort to shift the terms of the debate. And particularly after a decade and a half of government that was criticized from within for managing rather than leading (and concurrent loss of interest in the party), there's plenty of reason to doubt that NDP members will want to go down that same road again.

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