Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On experience

I've already discussed my reasons for supporting Ryan Meili in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. But I'll take a moment to expand on my take on what seems to be the main argument against both Meili and Yens Pedersen, that being the question of experience.

It's tempting to merely point out that experience is one of the few areas where any candidate will be definition improve with time. So to the extent that experience is seen as the strongest argument against a candidate, that tends to signal a contender with a substantial amount of potential to begin with.

That said, there are some circumstances where past experience can more plausibly be seen as a decisive factor. Particularly in a minority or otherwise unstable government where an election might happen at any time, it might make sense to choose a leadership candidate based in large part on one's ability to transition into campaign mode at any moment.

Fortunately for Meili and Pedersen, though, that isn't the case as matters now stand in Saskatchewan.

Instead, we're nearly two and a half years away from the province's next trip to the polls in 2011. Which means that there will be plenty of time for any new leader to develop within the role - meaning that any experience gap which exists now can be narrowed significantly by the time the new leader's public impression will be tested at the polls. And that time figures to present an ideal chance for the new leader to develop at a manageable pace.

The first order of business for the summer would almost certainly be to build on the new enthusiasm generated during the course of the leadership campaign to engage with members from all leadership camps - making for a natural extension of what each candidate has already been doing throughout the leadership race. That would then presumably be followed by a by-election to get into the Legislature, offering a trial run at electoral preparation and image-building for the leader personally. And from there, the new leader would get two years in the Legislature to develop a feel for challenging Wall, while overseeing the party's policy development process and internal renewal with support from the party as a whole (including those with more experience within his or her own camp as well as the rest of the party).

So the new leader will get to transition from consolidating the party's membership gains, to winning support in a riding, to appealing to the broader public across the province. And likewise the immediate opposition will go from virtually nothing for the summer, to a set of riding candidates this fall, to a substantial amount of jousting with Wall before the stakes get raised in a general election.

But what if Wall tries to maneuver his way into an early election as Stephen Harper did federally? While Harper went relatively unscathed due to the fact that a minority Parliament had given rise to election talk all along, it's hard to see how the Sask Party would be seen as anything short of jaw-droppingly clueless and out of touch if it gave up a majority mandate near or before the halfway point after passing its own fixed election date law. And the few issues which could provide even a slight pretense that an earlier election was required (say, a claim that Wall needs a new mandate to proceed with the construction of a nuclear reactor) would tend to be ones which make the NDP leader's job easier in rallying opposition to the Sask Party.

All in all, then, the NDP is ideally positioned to let a new leader learn from the wealth of knowledge within the party for an extended period of time before the next election, rather than needing to lower its sights as a matter of immediate convenience. Which will hopefully result in the party's members taking a closer look at what it is that they're ultimately hoping for - and voting for the candidate who delivers the best chance of reaching that best-case result.

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