Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Ryan Meili Afterword

I've discussed earlier some of the possibilities for Ryan Meili after his remarkably narrow defeat in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. But the main choice facing him is similar to the one in front of Yens Pedersen - and all indications so far suggest that Meili is headed down exactly the right path out of those options.

To see how that's so, let's look in a bit more depth at the forces at work behind Meili's decision not to run for the NDP's nomination in the impending Saskatoon Riversdale by-election.

For the most part, Dwain Lingenfelter's statement that he'd like to see Meili and Pedersen in the Legislature as soon as possible can and should be seen as a sign of unity coming out of the convention. But there's another possible side to it as well, as it might also hint at a preference to move the two renewal candidates into roles where they'd be subject to caucus discipline and heavier influence from Lingenfelter's loyalists - in effect co-opting them personally as a means of minimizing the effect of their supporters within the party.

And that perception would only have been stronger if Meili had pushed ahead with the Saskatoon Riversdale nomination. With Danielle Chartier having spent a substantial amount of time building a membership base in the riding while Meili was busy with the leadership campaign, Meili would have faced at best an uncertain road to victory based on the amount of support he could muster before the membership deadline.

To have more than a highly uncertain chance of winning, then, he'd have had to lean on Lingenfelter either to implore members to vote for Meili over the candidate who signed them up, or worse to state an intention not to recognize a Chartier victory. Which would have run counter to Meili's commitment to democratic nomination processes and created a huge split between him and at least some of his leadership-contest base.

Instead, Meili has lived up to his message from the leadership campaign, rightly passing on an opportunity to advance his own political career at the expense of the principles which made him such an appealing alternative to Lingenfelter. And that can only reinforce his credibility as a leading voice for progressive New Democrats in the years to come.

And there's no lack of areas where that brand can only be a positive for the Saskatchewan NDP. Within the party, Meili's effective leadership platform and strong reputation for listening to the party's membership make him a natural choice to lead the impending policy review process. And in the department of expanding the NDP's tent, the party will surely want to apply Meili's organizational skills and innovative outreach techniques - particularly to bring in support from the left which will be coming together around issues like the Sask Party's nuclear push.

That may make for a heavy workload over the next couple of years even if Meili doesn't find another by-election to pursue in the meantime. But among the other lessons learned during the course of the leadership campaign, we surely now know better than to underestimate what Meili and his movement can accomplish.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

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