Friday, June 19, 2009

On divisions of labour

LRT puts forward a theory on how Dwain Lingenfelter should be looking to organize the Saskatchewan NDP. But while I agree with the need for a careful allocation of duties within the party, I'd argue that his analysis is exactly backwards as to who's generally going to be best suited for what role.

LRT suggests that the NDP's strongest young voices should lead the charge against the Sask Party, in effect forming a provincial equivalent of the federal Libs' "Rat Pack" of the late '80s. But I'd argue that it's in fact the veteran MLAs in caucus who are best suited for the task of holding the Wall government's feet to the fire. They'll be more familiar with both the issues at play and the give-and-take of the Legislature. And they can't be plausibly turned aside with "if you'd ever been in government, you'd know better" as a rookie MLA or other young voice might be. (Indeed, this may be exactly why Biden, Clark and other experienced figures were so effective in clearing the way for Obama.)

So what does that leave for younger members to do? Well, the other main task for the party (along with general rebuilding) is the impending policy renewal process. And that's where I'd think the younger leaders in the NDP are best positioned to make their presence felt.

After all, we've just finished a leadership race where the two young candidates both presented platforms full to the brim with ideas worth discussing. And one would have to figure that there are plenty of other younger party members who also have ideas to offer - and will be no less energetic in presenting those through a policy process than they were in supporting the Meili and Pedersen leadership campaigns.

In contrast, the last few terms of NDP government were been marked by frustration over a limited amount of creative policy-making. And while there are undoubtedly some good ideas to be found among the caucus members who have been around during that time, it hardly makes sense to put the same general group of MLAs who presided over the period of relative stagnation in charge of driving change now.

Mind you, the division shouldn't be absolute by any stretch of the imagination: some experienced hands to guide the policy process and youthful enthusiasm to turn against the Sask Party are certainly pluses as well, and each member will bring different strengths to the table for each task. But to the extent there's going to be any correlation between age/experience and roles within the party, I'd think it's far better to aim for youthful, creative policy development and hard-nosed, experienced opposition rather than the converse.

So what would Lingenfelter's role be based on that division of labour within the party? I'd agree with LRT that as leader, Lingenfelter should likely try to stay above most attacks on the government - and likewise the bulk of the policy process until it's developed something close to a final result. Again, better to be able to claim some distance from any particularly flawed ideas that get put into the mix.

What the party would need from Lingenfelter would then be to oversee the process, keep building connections inside and outside the party, take up the role of Wall's chief critic once issues move past the stage of speculation into the realm of clear proof, and work on polishing up his own image for comparison to Wall in 2011. And if the NDP can combine that effort with a revitalized policy package against a worn-down Sask Party government, then victory should definitely be well within reach.

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