Thursday, May 21, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Ryan Meili Government Projection

When I endorsed Ryan Meili in the leadership race, I did so based in large part on qualities which seem likely to make him extremely effective in government. But for completeness in the projection series, I'll expand a bit on the points made there as to what we might expect from Meili.

Here's the key paragraph from my earlier post:
(I)t takes a rare combination of creativity, judgment and accessibility to reach the best possible outcome on any policy question, due to both the difficulty of choosing between competing options and the importance of working with stakeholders to smooth out the path toward change. And all indications are that Meili has each of those elements in spades, making him the right person for the job of renewing the NDP and leading it into the future.
In sum, then, Meili figures to do well in terms of both setting policy goals, and working with interested parties to make them a reality with genuine public support. Which seem to me to be the basic tasks of any premier from a policy implementation perspective. But then, there are a few other functions of a premier where Meili's campaign to date may offer signals about his likely actions in office.

As much as any political leader wants to be able to manage the public policy agenda and framework for political discussion, it's inevitable that at least some unfavourable issues will have to be dealt with during any term in office. There, Meili's handling of the Lingenfelter membership controversy looks to hint at a strong balance between recognizing principled concerns including a need for transparency, while at the same time not overreaching or inflaming the issues beyond what's called for in the circumstances.

Indeed, one might even say that another Obama parallel can be found in Meili's "no-drama" response to controversy - including both the Lingenfelter controversy, and the story of Meili's Quebec City protest which appeared early in the campaign but held a lifespan of approximately a day. And while the no-drama theme may not have been emphasized publicly as much as some other aspects of Obama's rise, it may well be one of the keys to his success both during the election campaign and during his time in office.

Another area worth considering is management style. Rather than following the all-too-common trend of politicians seeking to micromanage every political and policy move from their supporters, Meili has been comfortable delegating responsibilities within his leadership campaign. Which would figure to translate into a similar strategy with his government: while Meili would obviously set the broad direction, there's every indication that he'll be comfortable allowing cabinet members to exercise some real authority over their portfolios.

Finally, and at least tangentially related to both of the above considerations, I'll note one area where Meili hasn't yet been substantially tested during the course of the leadership race. One of the difficulties which Lorne Calvert faced during his tenure as party leader was the problem of managing challenges to his authority. And while Calvert managed to emerge from those with his leadership intact (in retrospect relying in substantial part on a no-drama strategy of his own), the question of how to manage the egos inevitably present within a successful political party is one which is bound to emerge at some point.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Meili hasn't faced that type of issue within his leadership campaign. And a combination of a loyal set of campaign supporters with a no-drama policy and enough freedom of action to pacify his more ambitious cabinet members would seem likely to minimize any of them that do come up in the future. But while there's plenty of reason for optimism as to how Meili would deal with internal challenges in the future, that looks to be largely uncharted territory.

Of course, if the greatest apparent concern with a candidate's prospect of success in government is that remote, it again speaks well to the likelihood that the NDP will be glad to give Meili the chance to take office. And that's why while the opposition projections might leave room for a matter of stylistic preference between the candidates as to who would perform best as opposition leader, the choice as to who's best suited for government seems to me to be a fairly clear one.

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