Saturday, June 06, 2009

On potential energy

After months of a campaign involving serious discussions of policy and principle among four well-qualified candidates, the leadership race took a turn for the surreal at the end.

While Ryan Meili's campaign spent the voting interval on the second ballot marshalling every available troop to try to call potential voters to narrow a gap which proved too large to overcome, Dwain Lingenfelter's supporters started setting up their victory rally in the main hall. But within seconds of the Lingenfelter crowd to the right of the stage starting a "Link" chant in support of their candidate, a throng of Meili supporters (including plenty of new arrivals from the Higgins and Pedersen camps) soon assembled to the left with a "Meili" counter chant - which in turn gave way to an "NDP" chant bringing both sides together. One or more of those three messages echoed through the room until the results were announced...along with a tongue-in-cheek "Wallace" chant to beckon for the auditor responsible to announce the final numbers.

The contrast in the types of messages which managed to emerge from the crowds may ultimately serve as a perfect metaphor for the final result of the leadership race. The Saskatchewan NDP isn't lacking for members who are not only willing to show their enthusiasm, but eager to join forces toward the right end. But the NDP needs to figure out a common refrain that will actually unite its members - and any effort which fails to take into account all sides of the party figures to face vociferous opposition from within.

So what positives can we take from the convention so far? The good news today isn't limited to Lingenfelter and his supporters - though they're surely breathing a sigh of relief. Even for those who have been skeptical about Dwain Lingenfelter's run for the leadership, today's result should do about as much as can be done to confirm the fact that Lingenfelter can't afford to ignore the left side of the NDP.

Remember that it was just last year that the NDP faced a real fear that Lingenfelter's ascent to the leadership was a foregone coronation and that nobody would even bother seriously challenging him. From that starting point, many members would likely have been thrilled with the prospect that Lingenfelter would instead win a close second-ballot victory against a well-organized opponent. And if the actual result is still somewhat of a disappointment when something even better seemed well within reach, that's a positive sign as to how far the progressive faction within the NDP has come - as well as a hint that Lingenfelter would be well-advised to recognize and tap into the energy of his leadership opponents.

But then, the importance of working together and leaving nothing to chance should be no less clear to supporters of Meili, Pedersen and Higgins. After all, as strong as their show of common purpose was by the time of the second ballot, Lingenfelter would have swept to a first-ballot victory if any one of the three has been just slightly less successful in winning votes. And there's surely some theoretical possibility that it was within the grasp of the candidates to come up with the extra votes which would have been needed to push Meili ahead.

That goes doubly in the wake of what has to be seen as a disappointing level of voter turnout. Just yesterday, Murray Mandryk was commenting on the need to take into account the possibility that "while a spectacularly high number of eligible New Democrats will vote, it might not be unreasonable to suggest a five- to eight-per-cent 'no-show' rate." Instead, over 3,600 eligible members failed to vote at all, making for a no-show rate of over 27% - meaning that there were plenty of votes theoretically left unharvested which might have changed the results in any number of ways.

In the wake of a close vote which could so easily have gone differently, Lingenfelter now faces a double challenge. The first step is to make sure that everybody who attended the convention and showed their eagerness to be involved is inspired to keep doing the same - making sure to build a party that keeps convention attendees proudly chanting "NDP" rather than breaking down into internal factions. But the more important work is ultimately to start building a similar degree of enthusiasm among disaffected potential and current NDP members.

It remains to be seen how much Lingenfelter can accomplish on that front - and his continued focus on "winning" over questions of what the party actually hopes to accomplish in power signals that he has work to do in shaping his own message to the tasks. But it's Lingenfelter's success or failure in those areas that ultimately figure to define his leadership and determine the NDP's fate in 2011 - and there's every reason for him to want to start immediately in harnessing some of the obvious potential for renewal.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Leadership 2009 - 2nd Ballot Results

Dwain Lingenfelter: 5028
Ryan Meili: 4102

Total votes: 9130

One more for the record

Deb Higgins has also apparently endorsed Ryan Meili. 10 more minutes of voting for those leaving it until the bitter end...

Ryan Meili pin sightings

A few notable figures now sporting Meili pins with Pedersen and Higgins out of the race:

Yens Pedersen
Pat Atkinson
Frank Quennell
Warren McCall
Don Hovdebo

The count

Dwain Lingenfelter needs 363 votes ahead of Ryan Meili out of the 2683 cast for Higgins and Pedersen (assming the same number of votes). This would figure to be close to Lingenfelter's best-case scenario for a multi-ballot convention, but the leadership is still very much in play.

Yens Pedersen takes the stage...

...Drops out of the race, and also avoids a formal endorsement.

Deb Higgins speech

A big round of applause for Higgins, who doesn't offer an endorsement.

Leadership 2009 - First Ballot Results

Deb Higgins: 1303
Dwain Lingenfelter: 4360
Ryan Meili: 2401
Yens Pedersen: 1380

(There were 13051 possible votes; 9444 cast)

On to ballot two...

Leadership 2009 - Speech Wrapup

Having had time to digest this morning's proceedings, here are a few followup thoughts.

All of the candidates can claim at least some success from their speeches. Higgins took on the critiques of her candidacy head-on and seems to have won a positive reaction in doing so. But as the only candidate without a video and after leaving time on the table, she'll face some disadvantage in making her message stick after going first.

Lingenfelter didn't deliver any surprises: anybody who's focused primarily on attacking the Sask Party will have enjoyed his presentation, while those looking for new vision in doing so won't find much to work with.

If anybody won new votes this morning, it was probably Pedersen - who both presented some named supporters for the first time, and delivered a powerful and well-received speech of his own. The only downside is that he was still very much in the mode of introducing himself, while the other candidates were able to target messages to an established base.

Finally, Meili played it fairly safe, spending a lot of time on familiar videos and third-party endorsements. But he was also able to show his campaign's combination of establishment support and youthful enthusiasm - and his closing was effective in leaving the message that he's ready to lead immediately as the last message heard by the audience.

We'll find out soon whether many votes shifted this morning - not to mention whether today's voting will ultimately affect the race's results. And I'll of course let you know as soon as the results are in.

Ryan Meili speech followup

The background mystery raised in my Lingenfelter post looks to have been resolved, as Meili's logo was placed on the same background.

And while I've noted the content and response from the speeches, it's worth noting that Meili was the lone candidate to inspire a substantial chant from the crowd - and he managed to earn at least three.

Ryan Meili speech semi-liveblog

Much of Meili's time went to live endorsements as well as the videos posted online - keeping his supporters standing most of the way through.

Meili's speech starts off with a theme of "all in this together". That's followed by a brief talk based on Meili's work as a doctor, segueing into his "healthier society" message.

From there Meili goes into a broad policy overview. It's a good message, but repeats some content from the videos.

Investment in people as "not just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do"

Challenges false choices, including rebuilding vs winning elections - "need to rebuild the party now"

Strong closing in being ready to get started and calling on the audience to agree. And once again the response looks to be a strong one.

Yens Pedersen speech followup

I'll note as well the Pedersen line which seems to be the main topic of conversation afterward: "we're not just a social club - nor are we just after government jobs."

Yens Pedersen speech semi-liveblog

Off the top, Yens is the clear winner in the "best prop" category with his hairbands.

Unfortunately the sound editing in Yens' introductory video seems a bit inconsistent - some of the personal appeals are in the jarring side, taking away from the message.

Nice closer from a young fan: "I want a party that's as brave as a lion"

Gord Gunoff, a 1986 candidate and constituency exec since, introduces Yens - "I have paid the dues, and the dues are worth it"

Outline of energy plan, a bit wonkish - followed by describing Yens as "most honourable individual I have ever met"

Raquel Fletcher, 2008 federal candidate, goes next - discusses party renewal, passion for NDP - "winning the next election with integrity"

Pat Trask (?), another 1986 candidate, describes Yens' family and youth

"Party needs a good rebuilding" - Yens as leader to carry that out

Pedersen takes the podium, starts thanking convention/leadership planners and volunteers

NDP as "people first" party - pensions, health care as achievements

"Members have great ideas, but somebody needs to listen to them"

"Courage to be unpopular, integrity to do what's right regardless of polls"

Lots of policy included in story about talk with one party member who asked about plan - response "where others have promises, you have plans" - but Yens pivots to say the goal is to discuss what can be done better, not to assume his plans have to happen as suggested - "you don't pick a leader to be a know-it-all", analogy of leader as orchestra conductor

"I ask you to dream big dreams, make them a reality"

Now that's a surprise - more of the audience is on its feet for Yens than for Link.

Dwain Lingenfelter speech semi-liveblog

Stephanie Wotherspoon introduces Lingenfelter and his "incredible journey", starting with a mention of endorsements before segueing into a photo/video presentation. (With musical accompaniment from Jack Semple, which is always a good call.)

Wotherspoon asks for applause for Lingenfelter and his family - but doesn't seem happy with the result.

Of note: Lingenfelter's backdrop is exactly the same as one of Calvert's yesterday with the name replaced. (Though that may be a party format which Higgins didn't use.)

Link starts flanked by 30-40 supporters onstage by again highlighting his province-wide tour while thanking volunteers, emphasizing competitiveness in all ridings

"I've learned and listened from a new generation of candidates and activists"

A noun. A verb. November 7, 2011.

Lingenfelter's stated theme: "why winning matters", starting with emphasis on Crowns and utility rates - Wall carrying out "privatization on the installment plan", compared to Link's SaskEnergy proposal

Increased public ownership of water as another policy plank - has this been announced before?

Environment and energy discussion, again with a focus on Wall's actions

Labour relations - again going after Wall as going to war with workers

Rural issues - "NDP has left rural Saskatchewan, we're going to change that", dissatisfaction with Wall - interesting issue of "taking on" fertilizer + chemical companies

Mentions health care, housing, child care as areas of difference with the Sask Party - but then those didn't get mentioned in his platform

Message of unity - what divides us will be far less important than what unites - thanks other candidates and their volunteers

For all the orange Link shirts in the room, maybe 25-30% of the room seemed to stand and applaud at the end. But we'll find out soon whether he's won over enough of the crowd at the ballot box.

Deb Higgins speech semi-liveblog - recap

I'd planned on another post from Higgins' speech, but it was closer to the end than I'd thought. After running through a more detailed and highly effective review of her policies, she closed off with an appeal to the party and province's readiness for a female leader - which certainly seems like the best message to close with in a campaign where the three non-Lingenfelter candidates seem to be agreeing more than they disagree.

But Higgins left a substantial chunk of time unused - which may make for a sure way to avoid a Dion-style cutoff, but looks to reflect some less-than-perfect planning.

Deb Higgins speech semi-live blog

Leah Sharpe introduces Deb - focusing first on Higgins' campaign finance proposal (actually using the familiar "kitchen table" vs "boardroom table" frame) before running through an overview of Higgins' platform.

A first shot at Link - "never left for greener pastures" - followed by a positive appeal for a first female leader

20ish people are on stage with Deb - but it looks like only she and Sharpe will speak

Deb takes a quick swipe at her competitors, saying she's not in the race either out of ambition or to build experience

Challenges attacks based on her background as a grocery clerk - says she can speak from experience about the rights and needs of working people

Also challenges "university education" point - learned economics, labour relations, politics and law from experience

"Experience is important...but also commitment" - politics as belonging to citizens, not corporations and non-residents who fund Wall

Going into a deeper analysis of policies - which may be a good place for a new post.

Today's the day that all the world will see

Or at least a slightly larger portion thereof than usual. To watch the Saskatchewan NDP leadership convention in real time, go here; to vote if you haven't already, the site will reopen at 12 noon. And of course there should be a few of us providing updates as the day progresses.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Final Prediction Chart

I'll close out the Saskatchewan NDP leadership campaign with one more purely guesswork-based chart as to the likely outcomes tomorrow. But first, let's note a few factors resulting in changes since last week's numbers.

First, the past week has seen a fairly consistent narrative developing around Deb Higgins as a "compromise candidate". It still looks like she's behind Ryan Meili in the race for second, but that kind of message along with a strong showing in tomorrow's speech could both push fence-sitters into her camp and turn some additional second-choice support her way - helping Higgins to regain some of the ground which she'd seemed to lose while staying silent earlier in the campaign.

Second, there's the Lingenfelter campaign's disclosure of its percentage of votes in the bank, coupled with a conspicuous non-disclosure about the raw totals. Again, that figures to offer at least some hint that Lingenfelter's campaign no longer considers itself to have a particularly safe lead.

Finally, today's convention was noteworthy in the apparent parity among the candidates. On the organizational front, Lingenfelter and Meili still looked to be at the head of the pack in terms of making material and information availabile to interested members. But in terms of identified supporters there was a remarkable degree of parity among the delegates, with Higgins in particular having more buttons around than I'd expected and Lingenfelter noticeably lacking for a substantial lead over his competitors.

Which means that for the first time in a few weeks, the gap between Lingenfelter and his competitors looks to have narrowed rather than widened. And that should make for a fascinating day of voting and results tomorrow.

With all that in mind, here's the final estimate as to the possible outcomes:

Candidate 1st Ballot Win Final Ballot Final Ballot Win 4th on 1st Total Win
Dwain Lingenfelter 43 (46) 43 (39) 10 (10) 0 (0) 53 (56)
Ryan Meili 2 (4) 37 (35) 25 (23) 3 (3) 27 (27)
Deb Higgins 0 (0) 25 (21) 18 (15) 5 (6) 18 (15)
Yens Pedersen 0 (0) 5 (5) 2 (2) 47 (41) 2 (2)

On sociability

Not surprisingly, all four Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidates are having social events tonight in advance of tomorrow's vote. Whether by coincidence or planning, Deb Higgins, Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen will all have their socials in different rooms at the Regina Inn, while Dwain Lingenfelter's will be held at the Hotel Saskatchewan ballroom. So for those looking to see the candidates and the rest of the party in less formal settings before the vote, tonight (starting at 8 for Lingenfelter and 7 for the other candidates) is your chance.

Convention shocker!!! Calvert offers endorsement!!! an impression I'd allow to linger if I was a worse person. But Calvert did suggest that the NDP nominate his daughter...

Convention Notes - June 5 AM

While the convention seems ready to get to tomorrow's leadership vote (in what has to be a first, every segment actually ran ahead of schedule), a few notes based on this morning's proceedings...

The one proposed constitutional amendment was overwhelmingly rejected, with nobody even speaking in support.

In the health/education/party affairs panel which I attended, all but one resolution passed - and that one failed due to the lack of a mover. For those wondering, PA-7 did pass but in an amended form. Meanwhile, only one policy discussion gave way to leadership issues - and even that got back on track quickly.

One other interesting note is the convention theme: "Forward Together for a better tomorrow". Presumably the message wasn't intended to favour any one leadership contender, but the similarity to Ryan Meili's "Our Future Together" theme is tough to ignore.

What CC said

I've been meaning to put together a detailed post about Greg Weston's brilliant column exposing how the Cons (including their new star minister) have mismanaged AECL then misled Canadians to cover their tracks. But since CC got there first, go read.

This has been another edition of what CC said.

Choosing sides

For those looking for coverage of last night's public meeting on nuclear power, Saskboy's post chronicling the evening is definitely worth a read. But even the Leader-Post's report doesn't seem to have been able to avoid recognizing the massive gap between the pro-nuclear and pro-renewable sides:
During the open microphone portion of the meeting Thursday night, Regina resident Ron Bocking asked those opposed to nuclear power to raise their hand — which prompted most of the crowd to cheer and put up their arm.

"I'm strongly opposed to nuclear energy for three main reasons," said Bocking, calling it economically unfeasible, dangerous due to the waste that has to be isolated from the environment and unnecessary. "There's many other forms of energy."

However, some others spoke in support of nuclear power. In response to Bocking's impromptu vote, Regina Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Hopkins was one of a small number of people to call out that he supports a reactor.
Of course, that "small number of people" has been largely in control of the process so far - which is likely why there was so much pent-up demand for an opportunity to offer anything other than a pro-nuke perspective. But it'll be awfully difficult to ignore the contrast between the majority opinion among those showing an interest in the issue of nuclear power and the narrow interests of a few people seeking to push it onto the province. And the further the Wall government tries to push toward nuclear development without listening to the citizens who are already showing their concern, the larger that disparity in active support figures to become.

[Edit: updated link.]

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Leadership 2009 Links

A couple more links worth pointing out on the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race and related issues...

First, Stephen Larose theorizes that the Sask Party's cabinet shuffle reflects an attempt to get more partisan members into battle in preparation for a Lingenfelter win:
Probably the best way to look at Brad Wall’s recent cabinet shuffle (Government of Saskatchewan) is to put it in context of the NDP leadership race. Wall thinks (correctly,) that Dwain Lingenfelter is going to win in a walk, so Wall prepared a wartime cabinet.

That’s the main reason why Wall has removed three people (Sask. Party website) who (for Sask. Party politicians, anyway) were doing not that bad a job, and replaced them with three hard-core ideologues (Sask Party website). Wall is expecting that the next months in the Legislature will resemble trench warfare in the First World War – massive expenditures of manpower, time, money and effort for little or no gain.

Then again, I’m sure Wall would rather see Link as NDP leader than anybody else, for the same reason why the Pentagon would rather fight a conventional war than a war of counter-insurgency. It’s what they know; it’s what they think they’re good at.
It's definitely an interesting theory, though there might be similar logic at play no matter who wins the leadership race. With the main question over the next year-plus figuring to be how the NDP leader gets branded going into the next provincial election, Wall may well have figured he's better off promoting Yogi Huyghebaert to shriek about an impending red menace than putting somebody more reasonable in front of the cameras.

But if so, that would make for a sad commentary on Wall's view of government. And if the political scene is indeed headed to a war footing, one consequence figures to be an end to the undeserved free pass Wall has received from the media so far during his term in office.

Meanwhile, the Southwest News picks up on one noteworthy comment from Deb Higgins:
Saskatchewan NDP Leadership candidate, Deb Higgins attended Wednesday's meeting in Swift Current and hopes a referendum is held on the Nuclear issue. Higgins states the future of Uranium in Saskatchewan is a crucial issue and cannot be decided over a 10 week period alone.
Of course, I'd have to agree with the latter point. But as with Ryan Meili's call for a redesigned consultation process, any demand for a referendum which essentially legitimizes a debate where nuclear generation is placed ahead of all other options figures to make for a more difficult position to defend than a consistent message that nuclear power doesn't deserve the focus in the first place.

Pre-convention test

In case there was any doubt, I'll plan to provide updates from this weekend's convention. So let's see if my Blackberry is up to the task...

(Edit: Indeed it is.)

Leadership 2009 - Policy Review Wrapup

Let's close off my series of posts on the policies put forward by the Saskatchewan NDP leadership candidates with an overall look at the candidates' scores:

Ryan Meili - 40/50
Yens Pedersen - 37/50
Dwain Lingenfelter - 36/50
Deb Higgins - 35/50

As noted in my posts about each individual candidates, the scores tend to reflect a divide between Meili and Pedersen who put together ambitious and complete platforms, and Lingenfelter and Higgins who played it safer with limited proposals. Meili then ranks ahead of the pack through third-party validation and a judicious choice of policies which minimize the problems which would normally arise in a more detailed platform.

But the most important message in looking at the platforms is found less in the candidate ranking than in the reality that the candidates each brought different strengths to the table in making their policy choices. And that should serve as a reminder that in order to put together the best possible platform for the NDP as a whole in 2011, all of the candidates should be eager to listen to each other and to the membership as a whole.

Pulling the vote

James Wood updates the voting numbers for the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race. And it'll be interesting to see the effect of what looks to be a highly successful effort to get members to vote early.

By way of comparison, in the Ontario NDP leadership race earlier this year, just under 47% of eligible voters made their choice in advance. In contrast, the Saskatchewan NDP's race has far exceeded that total even with two more days of advance voting to go:
As of Wednesday, 54 per cent of about 13,000 eligible voters had cast preferential ballots through the mail, telephone or Internet in advance polling.
Lingenfelter, like the other candidates, said he is spending his time working the phones in an effort to get members to cast their votes in advance.

While he's taking nothing for granted, he expressed confidence, noting about 60 per cent of his campaign's identified supporters have already voted.
So how does that number of advance voters affect the campaigns? The article notes that a large amount of advance voting could work to the advantage of Dwain Lingenfelter's campaign in light of his front-runner status, as it reduces the chances of any other candidate building momentum at the convention itself. And on the the surface, Lingenfelter's statement that his campaign has already turned out 60 per cent of its vote would seem to further favour him.

But given that at least some portion of the party would figure to remain undecided until the convention or decline to identify their support, it would seem likely that each of the campaigns are somewhere near the same level in terms of percentages. Which makes the more important question the size of the pool of identified support that each could claim to begin with.

And it's striking that Lingenfelter was silent on that point. Remember that he was less than shy about stating how many new members his campaign had signed up. And at the time, the number seemed to signal that Lingenfelter would enjoy a strong chance at a first-ballot victory.

Of course, there are some reasons why Lingenfelter wouldn't want to show his hand at this point even if he's still operating under the assumption that he's banked all the votes that he needs, including possible embarrassment if his numbers proved to be wrong as well as the desire to keep public attention directed toward the race. But it sounds like Lingenfelter should in theory have an excellent idea as to whether or not he's in fact headed toward the first-ballot romp which he once expected. And that will make his camp's strategy very much worth watching over the next couple of days.


Throughout the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race, one of the most notable omissions from any candidate's site was the absence of any listed endorsements for Yens Pedersen (even as his Facebook supporters numbered in the hundreds). Now, just in time for this weekend's convention, Yens Pedersen has unveiled an endorsements page which explicitly focuses on content rather than naming names (while hinting that "(s)ome of the authors are well-known people"). Ideally it would be a plus to see at least some indication of the type of team which Pedersen would assemble - but I've mentioned before the value of offering authentic opinions about why a candidate deserves support, and Pedersen looks to have done just that.

It looks especially noteworthy that the most frequently-cited theme in Pedersen's endorsements is his stance on nuclear power. With the issue in the news around the province over the course of the campaign and with the Sask Party's "consultation" meeting set for Regina tonight, that focus looks to make for a strong closing message for Pedersen's campaign - as well as positioning him to keep up the nuclear fight regardless of how the leadership race turns out.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Sowing the Seeds

I've posted twice before about the Sowing the Seeds report put together to generate discussion about the direction of the Saskatchewan NDP during the leadership race and beyond. For those interested in seeing the entire paper, here it is (posted with permission from its author).

I'll note that the materials to be dealt with at this weekend's NDP convention include a resolution from Saskatoon Southeast to further distribute the report. But hopefully it won't be seen as too much of an affront to the party's initiative in voting on the resolution for the document to be posted publicly before the convention.

Simple answers to simple questions

CC asks:
Refresh my memory ... when exactly did the way the Conservatives spend my tax dollars suddenly become "private" and none of my business?
It has always been thus. But don't worry: they'll be all for accountability just as soon as another party is in charge of spending those same dollars.

Incidentally, CC hints at one of the questions which strikes me as most significant about the Raitt revelations: how exactly were eight-figure expenditures on the Chalk River reactor kept away from public eyes to begin with?

Leadership 2009 Notes

With the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race winding down, the candidates appear to be having a fairly quiet week (at least until the convention gets under way) even as the race picks up added media attention. Both Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen have turned their sights toward reminding members about the June 5 deadline for online or telephone voting, with Pedersen also including a note about the preferential balloting system.

Meanwhile, Dwain Lingenfelter continues to unveil youth-oriented endorsements, this time highlighting support from "dynamic young New Democratic candidates" Steve Ryan and Eric Anderson. And their age and established level of involvement in the party are certainly huge pluses for Ryan and Anderson. But while recognizing the effort both put into the 2007 campaign (as well as their other involvement in politics and community activities as mentioned on Lingenfelter's site), it's worth noting that "dynamic" might not be the first word that comes to mind in describing their results: Anderson's 1,592 votes in Rosetown-Elrose made for a drop of over 600 from the NDP's 2003 total (even though the riding was then held by opposition leader Elwin Hermanson), while Ryan's total of 1,320 votes in Wood River was the NDP's third-lowest total in any riding and a drop of 701 votes from 2003.

Edit: added wording.

On character

Murray Mandryk's last leadership candidate profile is that of Yens Pedersen. And while it doesn't add much to what I've seen and written in assessing Pedersen's place in the leadership contest, one anecdote definitely looks to be worth pointing out:
New Democrats shopping for patterns in character would be pleasantly surprised to know that such integrity from Pedersen has been consistent. Unbeknownst to many, it was also Pedersen who played a pivotal role in alerting the Saskatchewan Law Society to the professional misconduct of fellow firm lawyer Garry Oledzki, who has since pleaded guilty to 12 infractions of conduct unbecoming a lawyer.

On final numbers

The Saskatchewan NDP has released what will apparently be the last fund-raising disclosures (warning: PDF) from its leadership race. And while the raw numbers haven't moved far since the previous list on May 20, there are a few developments worth noting.

Yens Pedersen's new donations came in just behind Deb Higgins with a total amount of $1,250. But there are a couple of noteworthy donors on the list: Knight Archer Insurance at $500 as the first corporate donation to Pedersen's campaign (non-legal division), and Jim Robbins and Nettie Wiebe at $250.

Higgins took in a total of $1,300, but in only two additional donations. Which means that in terms of total disclosed donors for the campaign, her lead over Pedersen narrowed to 15-13. (Lingenfelter finishes with 63, Meili with 29.)

Dwain Lingenfelter brought in three new donations totalling $3,000. Of note is that two of the three new donors (Jim Scharfstein and Robert Gibbings) are named partners in the law firm of Scharfstein Gibbings Walen Fisher.

Finally, Ryan Meili brought in nine new listed donations totalling $3,020. Included in that amount are four $340 donations which seem to have been targeted toward the money bomb - which of course raised about four times as much as the amount listed in reportable donations during the reporting period.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Who says photo ops aren't enough?

Aaron Wherry picks up on a truly instructive moment from today's question period, as one of the Cons' cabinet ministers apparently thinks it's a compliment to be told his government has done nothing but try to claim attention for itself:
Kennedy tried again. “Mr. Speaker, it was the Finance Minister, on January 27, who said it was absolutely essential to get the projects going and the money flowing within 120 days; four months,” he shot back. “The deadline has come and gone, and all Canadians have to show for it are photo ops with Conservative ministers.”

Across the way, Gary Goodyear started to clap, then, finding himself alone in this regard, thought better of it.

Leadership 2009 - Deb Higgins Policy Review

Finishing off the policy review series, let's take a look at how Deb Higgins' platform compares to those of her competitors in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race.

Thoroughness - 7/10

On the surface, the broad topics in Higgins' online platform would seem to cover significantly more ground than Dwain Lingenfelter's - if still missing a few obvious concerns like education of health care. But the subject areas included in Higgins' official platform are dealt with somewhat inconsistently: some (such as environment) are addressed with a fairly long list of proposals, while at least a couple still tell readers to "come back for updates". Which means that anybody who didn't hang onto the Commonwealth may have trouble finding out what Higgins has to say on some of the more important issues which figure to be dealt with during the leadership race.

Consistency - 8/10

One of the advantages of a fairly modest set of proposals like Higgins' is that it doesn't tend to lead to major inconsistencies. But that tends to lead to problems in other areas, such as...

Creativity - 5/10

As I've noted before, Higgins' platform consists almost entirely either incremental changes to existing programs, the implementation of previous Saskatchewan reports or policies modeled on plans which already exist elsewhere in Canada.

Support - 7/10

Yet even with ample opportunity to rely on outside sources in support of her policies, Higgins doesn't offer much by way of explanation for her policies. Both her website and her Commonwealth responses tend to include a brief paragraph or two providing an extremely high-level look at the subjects involved, but little beyond that to explain Higgins' policies.

Pragmatism - 8/10

Of course, the lack of a strong explanation may be mitigated by the fact that Higgins' policies are generally non-controversial. Noteworthy exceptions may include a "triple-bottom-line" assessment process for major developments and indexation of the minimum wage above the poverty line - but even in those cases the policies would seem to have at most incremental effects on their opponents, and there would be obvious constituencies in favour as well to help ease the policies' passage.

The Big Idea

Higgins' first major announcement of the campaign was her campaign finance reform package which would prohibit donations from out of province, set limits on donations from Saskatchewan individuals and organizations, and provide for a public subsidy to political parties based on their total votes received. And while the proposal has been echoed in full by Meili and in part by Pedersen, it still stands out as Higgins' most significant contribution both to the race, and hopefully to the political scene at large at the end of the race.

Of course, that may depend in large part on the NDP's own fund-raising strategy coming out of this weekend's convention: if Lingenfelter emerges victorious and figures that his Alberta connections can rival the Sask Party's, then it's unlikely that the plan will go any further. But I'd argue that whoever wins the race would be best off adopting the policy - both in order to create a strong issue to wield against the Wall government, and in the interest of better connecting political parties with voters than with their financial backers as a matter of principle.

Deep thought

The difference between we anonymous wannabe opinion makers and the Serious Mainstream Media is obviously their scrupulous commitment to getting the facts right and quickly correcting any errors.

On united efforts

Meanwhile, James Wood reports on the theory that the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race might lead to divisions within the party. But try as Wood might to make a story out of supposed dissension, the leadership candidates themselves are sending exactly the right signals:
But his absence from provincial politics to work in Alberta and his support in the past for nuclear power development had already made him a polarizing figure for some New Democrats before the membership storm broke.

Lingenfelter said in the final days of a tough leadership race, there is "a sense this thing can never be brought back together," but he pointed to the Obama-Clinton battle for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination as proof even the deepest cuts can be mended.

"After a couple of weeks, everybody got back together and did what they had to do to beat the Republicans and I just know that's what's going to happen in this campaign regardless of who wins," said Lingenfelter, who noted the first job of any new leader involves reaching out to those party members who didn't support him or her.

Meili, a political newcomer who has likely been the biggest surprise in the race -- both he and Lingenfelter peg him at second place on the convention's first ballot -- echoed Lingenfelter's comments about the party coming together while at the same time getting in a swipe at the former deputy premier.

"Honestly, there will be work to be done. I do feel that unless we make a clear break from that sort of political practice and unless we are putting forward a really positive, ideas-based, inspiring platform, it will be very hard to unify the party. However, I think that's what we're going to do. I think I've got a very good chance of being the leader. I think whoever the leader is, the NDP will come together around that leader because we have to," he said.

Ironically, Pedersen, who has been most publicly at odds with Lingenfelter, downplayed the significance of bad blood in the leadership race.

Pedersen, who describes himself as a "democratic socialist," said splits in the party are nothing new and there are bigger issues to deal with.

"I don't think it's a choice of values or age or anything like that . . . I think what it is, it's a choice of direction and this party has to decide whether we're going to be a party of small-l liberals or whether we're going to be a democratic socialist party. To me, that's the big division or big question of principle and direction underscoring this race."
A couple of other points from Wood's article are also worth highlighting. Like Wheatsheaf, Wood takes a look at the theory that Deb Higgins might come out of the race as a compromise choice. But it's hard to see that as a likely outcome if Meili is indeed in second place - and the acknowledgment from Lingenfelter's camp to that effect would seem to offer a fairly strong hint as to how the candidates are currently positioned.

Finally, the report that 44 per cent of the 13,000 total possible votes are already in might serve to make any developments this week far less significant than they might be otherwise: there may not be many people left to vote based on what happens at the convention. I'd be particularly interested to see if there's any breakdown as to what format members have used for their votes, but we'll find out before long whether the heavy early voting favours any one candidate.

Leadership 2009 Links

With the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race coming down to the wire, we're noew seeing more commentary on the contest than there had been for a long time. So here are a couple of the more interesting recent reads...

Buckdog sees the race as mostly one involving a split mostly along generational lines rather than ideological ones. I'd argue that there are a few important splits at play: within the older-generation candidates there's a clear ideological split between Higgins on the left and Lingenfelter on the right, while among the younger candidates there's a split in style between Pedersen as the brash populist champion and Meili as the persuader who's managed to win a substantial chunk of the party's establishment to his side.

From that starting point, the biggest question mark on any later ballot is that of how Higgins' supporters will use their second-choice support. As I've noted before, Meili's and Pedersen's supporters would seem highly likely to support the other young candidate next, followed by Higgins over Lingenfelter. But there's a significant quesetion as to whether Higgins' supporters will vote based on generational lines or on ideological fit - and that could be the decisive factor if the race comes down to a Lingenfelter/Meili or Lingenfelter/Pedersen final ballot.

Meanwhile, Wheatsheaf also offers up some interesting perspectives on the race. While I'd have some questions about the candidate comparisons (Lingenfelter seems to me a better comparison to Paul Martin than to Michael Ignatieff, and Meili seems to have far more of an urban/professional base than Nettie Wiebe), perhaps the most noteworthy characterization is that of Higgins as the "happy middle" - which is surely exactly the narrative she'll need to consolidate support at the convention if she has enough early-ballot support to stay in the race.

Finally, for those who haven't yet read Jason's blog, his series of 10 reasons for voting for Ryan Meili is definitely worth a look (along with his other coverage of the race).

Leadership 2009 - Dwain Lingenfelter Policy Review

In theory, one might have expected the campaign with the most resources to also spend the most time putting together a thorough leadership platform. Instead, Dwain Lingenfelter has been extremely selective in putting forward policy proposals, limiting his online policy to a few a grab bag of suggestions and even ducking a couple of written questions from the Commonwealth. That may make for a logical strategy from a candidate whose top priority is not giving people reason to oppose him, but it also leaves NDP members in the dark as to what we can expect if Lingenfelter wins.

Thoroughness - 5/10

Lingenfelter's complete list of independently-presented policy proposals is as follows:
- restoring SaskEnergy's mandate to develop energy resources;
- implementing an immigration and multiculturalism strategy;
- implementing a cap and trade system for CO2 along with increased renewable energy;
- providing greater support for women within the NDP;
- setting up a "blue ribbon panel" on electricity; and
- holding an NDP policy renewal process.

Which doesn't make for a bad start in signalling Lingenfelter's top personal issues, but leaves vast swaths of the party's policy priorities - from agriculture to health care to education to labour relations - completely untouched. And while at least a few of those blanks are filled in by Lingenfelter's responses in public forums such as the Commonweath and the leadership debates, the lack of any detailed policy leaves plenty of room for uncertainty.

Consistency - 8/10

But then, with only a few ideas being presented, there isn't too much room for Lingenfelter to contradict himself. And that goes doubly when most of his proposals start with consultation or collaboration rather than direct action.

Creativity - 7/10

Aside from his SaskEnergy proposal, Lingenfelter's policies are generally oriented toward either working with organizations or structures that are already planned or in place. But he does get credit for raising a serious issue about the proper role of Crowns in serving the public interest.

Support - 8/10

Interestingly, Lingenfelter offers the lengthiest discussions out of any of the leadership candidates. And while a good amount of that is generally dedicated to criticizing the Wall government rather than explaining Lingenfelter's proposals in great detail, there's enough background presented to allow readers to see where the ideas come from.

Pragmatism - 8/10

While most of Lingenfelter's policy proposals are fairly non-controversial, even his most striking departure from the status quo seems fairly well insulated from outside criticism. By stating his intention to have SaskEnergy work "in partnership with other companies" in developing energy resources, he offers up a suggestion that the private sector also stands to benefit from increased Crown-driven development - which combined with his own energy-sector connections would seem likely to minimize the risk of a strong corporate push against the plan (even if it may limit the benefits to the public as well).

The Big Idea

For obvious reasons, Lingenfelter's proposal to get SaskEnergy back into the business of owning and developing oil and gas reserves looks to be by far the most significant generated by his campaign. But it's worth wondering just what shape the proposal would ultimately take if put into practice.

After all, while Lingenfelter's proposal focuses largely on where SaskEnergy has been, a restored mandate wouldn't have the effect of turning back the clock on the context in which SaskEnergy operates. And it's some fairly subtle points within the larger plan - how aggressively SaskEnergy would bid for and develop reserves, how it would seek to interact with private-sector players, how it would deal with any international friction - which would ultimately determine how much benefit there is to be had from the idea.

On opinion making

In addition to contributing the tagline which you'll see above, Murray Mandryk's profile of Ryan Meili also provides plenty of fodder for the Meili camp. But perhaps even more significant than the gushing positives is the fact that the main negative doesn't actually seem to consist of much substance:
NDP supporters have always demanded their leaders to be already battle-tested for the rigors of Saskatchewan election campaigns. Paying one's dues means something in NDP ranks -- something far more meaningful than "a social democrat living a social democrat lifestyle" that Meilites have adopted as their unofficial campaign slogan. In fact, youthful smugness and ambition is frowned upon in NDP leadership campaigns. (Some of the roughly 13,000 eligible NDP voters might very well be the same ones who rejected Roy Romanow in 1970, or Scott Banda in 2001 for that very reason.)
Now, the Romanow example at least supports Mandryk's point in theory. But it's hard to see how "youthful smugness and ambition" were the reason for Banda's fourth-place finish (which itself beat out two cabinet ministers) as opposed to, say, the multiple better-known candidates who ran strong campaigns ahead of him.

Even accepting that "paying one's dues" has been a decisive factor in the past, though, it looks to be mostly a more parochial way of rephrasing the experience argument which I've already addressed - with a hint of loyalty testing added in for good measure. But it's hard to see how Meili's well-documented history of progressive activism and community organization would fall short of any reasonable standard for dedication to the NDP's causes.

Meanwhile, Mandryk's assumption that a vote for Meili would be seen as resulting in an "extended pit stop out of power" looks to be entirely misplaced. After all, he himself has tried to make the case (however flawed) that it's a Lingenfelter win that would set up the most favourable conditions for an extended Sask Party stay in power. But more importantly, Meili's rapid ascent on the leadership learning curve should give the party every reason for confidence that he'll be entirely ready to mount an effective 2011 campaign to start implementing his vision before long.

Ultimately, it's likely no less true for Meili than it was for Banda that the big question isn't whether the broader membership perceives youth as a negative, but whether he's been able to persuade enough members that his positive attributes are worth voting for. And we'll find out before long just how successful Meili has been in pitching his message of renewal to the party at large.

Update: The Meili campaign notes one other serious flaw in Mandryk's column:
Does a young, soft-spoken social-activist doctor have a chance to lead a party that prefers its leaders to be older, fiery seasoned pros who've paid their dues in the party's trenches?

The answer would have likely been a resounding "no" when the now-34-year-old Ryan Meili started his leadership bid in February as a virtual political unknown who had taken out his first NDP membership only eight months earlier. But a simmering desire for change among younger New Democrats in particular has heated to near boiling point over the Dwain Lingenfelter-camp-created membership controversy.
Lest there be any doubt, the "eight months" message has been one of the unsupported whispering points put out about Meili, who has in fact been an NDP member for eight years.

Update II: The column has now been fixed - see correction here.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Good news, bad news

John has the good news:
Shockingly, the much-heralded, little-witnessed "nuclear renaissance" isn't happening so much, in the real world.
Needless to say, the bad news is that the Sask Party provincial government doesn't seem to have any intention of governing in the real world anytime soon.

National institutions! Git yer national institutions while they're hot!

Want to by the Royal Canadian Mint? Or VIA Rail? Or the CBC? The Cons are looking for excuses to sell them off at fire-sale prices - and seem to have settled on their own deficit as the best pretext they can find.

Cashing in

Ryan Meili's campaign has released the final results from its "money bomb" over the last week-plus. And suffice it to say that judging from how this appeal for cash exceeded expectations, there looks to be every reason for the NDP to make use of the same tactic in the future:
The Ryan Meili Money Bomb, while pointing out that Ryan Meili is actually older than former Manitoba Premier Ed Schreyer was when assuming office, called on recipients to donate $34, the candidate’s age, in the final week of May. The original target of $10,000 was surpassed on Friday. At the end of the week, the Ryan Meili Money Bomb had produced a fundraising windfall in excess of $12,000 mostly from new donors, an impressive groundswell of support for the Meili campaign.

On bad jokes

It's somewhat surprising that Don Drummond's comment in the Hill Times hasn't received some wider circulation as an indication of the Cons' sad excuse for economic management. Or at least, it would be if the quote didn't also cut to the core of the Libs' excuses for propping up the Harper government:
The federal government's promise to begin infrastructure projects intended to stimulate the lagging economy within 120 days of the January budget was "a joke," says TD Bank Chief Economist Don Drummond.

"I never did assume it would flow in the time period in the budget, I thought that was a joke, in fact. [The government] had the bulk of the stimulus happening in 2009, I had it inverted, I had the bulk of it happening in 2010," Mr. Drummond told The Hill Times last week.
Remember that the Libs' sad excuse for an amendment to the Cons' budget was based entirely on the theory that enough money would be flowing to justify two quarterly reports before the end of June. And indeed one of the more common rationalizations for refusing to follow through on the progressive coalition was the theory that a changeover in government would lead to delays in stimulus spending.

Nearly four months later (which would of course have left ample time for a changeover in government), not only have we still seen next to no stimulus provided, but the Cons are fighting tooth and nail against any effort to even partially remedy that problem through an immediate fix to EI. Which makes it obvious why the Libs would rather give Harper a free pass on his bad joke of a stimulus package than highlight a punchline which fooled them completely.

Leadership 2009 - Ryan Meili Policy Review

Ryan Meili has followed Yens Pedersen's philosophy of putting together a detailed platform to introduce himself to the province's NDP members. In contrast, however, his one-piece-at-a-time release strategy has allowed him more time to refine his policies, and allowed him to frame them based on later developments in the campaign. The result is a platform that avoids a couple of Pedersen's relative pitfalls while enjoying the same strengths - though the downside is that there's been less time to discuss some of Meili's ideas.

Thoroughness - 8/10

Again, Meili's platform addresses all of the major provincial policy areas while delving into a few interesting new areas (such as his specific focus on developing rural arts and culture). That said, I'll rank Meili just slightly behind Pedersen here due to the difficulty of putting the full program together as early as Pedersen did, as well as his additional discussion of the structures involved in policy implementation.

Consistency - 7/10

For the most part, Meili's core policies (i.e. the ones listed on his website as "issues") are remarkably consistent for a platform with the Meili's amount of detail. But while I noted above that Meili's gradual policy release strategy has allowed him to maintain flexibility throughout the campaign, that can also lead to some contradictions - particularly when a proposal is drafted primarily as a response to events as they happen. And so it is with Meili's stance on nuclear energy, where a recent proposal to effectively restart the Sask Party's nuclear development consultation process to include more time and a broader range of issues doesn't seem to fit with Meili's previous statements which (rightly in my view) suggested that any insistence on discussing nuclear development is likely to make for a waste of time and effort.

Creativity - 8/10

Once again, Meili's platform contains a number of significant new ideas - most notably SaskPharm (discussed in more detail below) and a truly progressive justice policy. But there are a few areas as well (education and labour being two notable examples) where Meili's platform consists mostly of a continuation or expansion of existing policy.

Support - 9/10

As I've discussed before, Meili has taken an important step beyond his competitors here by seeking outside support for his policies even during the course of the leadership campaign. And that isn't as a matter of an either-or choice in how to support his policies either, as Meili's platform is backed by solid principled explanations and links to reading material or related programs.

Pragmatism - 8/10

What's perhaps most striking about Meili's distinctive ideas is their ability to propose major changes without creating obvious opposition constituencies within Saskatchewan: it's hard to see who in the province would want to take the "no" side against cheaper prescription drugs or the development of rural culture. But at least a few policies (the focuses on encouraging organic farming and "closing the loop" of food production in particular) would likely face some opposition from the free-trade crowd and actors from outside the province. (Which might actually make for reason for Meili to run with Deb Higgins' proposal to limit political contributions from outside the province before moving on to his substantive ideas.)

The Big Idea

Meili's SaskPharm proposal ranks alongside the idea of increased public resource ownership (proposed in different forms by Pedersen and Lingenfelter) as the two ideas which seem virtually certain to stay in circulation at the end of the leadership race. And indeed it may also serve as the best example of how Meili's policies can lead to substantial positive change without raising significant opposition from within the province. While it would obviously have supporters in the health professions and among those whose prescription drug bills might be reduced - and create potential side benefits in terms of increased research and development of drugs for public health purposes around the world - it wouldn't seem to compete with any existing Saskatchewan industry or raise too many concerns from anybody besides the most rabid anti-government voce who would oppose anything of substance from the NDP.

Of course, the flip side is that SaskPharm too may face substantial opposition from abroad. Manitoba and its generic drug manufacturers presumably wouldn't be happy to see SaskPharm moving in on their industry, and even the broader pharmaceutical industry might decide to try to shut down research in the hands of a Crown corporation. But if the greatest problem with an idea is that others prefer to have similar types of development for themselves, that's probably a sign that there's plenty of benefit to be found.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Always the same

Shorter Chantal Hebert:

The NDP's status as the only other party holding or even increasing its Quebec popularity in the face of the Libs' Ignatieff honeymoon - like virtually any other development - is bad news for the NDP.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Yens Pedersen Policy Review

When Yens Pedersen's platform was first released early on in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership campaign, it looked entirely likely to be overtaken by the other candidates' eventual policy proposals. In retrospect, though, Pedersen's platform has held up remarkably well over the course of the campaign - with the only downside being that some of the more distinctive ideas don't seem to have sparked a lot of discussion even in the leadership race.

Thoroughness - 9/10

If anything, Pedersen looks to have erred on the side of overinclusion: his platform includes a set of broad principles on five main issues before delving into proposals which cover the vast majority of provincial functions and responsibilities.

Consistency - 6/10

Of course, the problem with proposing a lot of different ideas is that some are likely to come in conflict. And there are at least a few apparent contradictions within Pedersen's platform - most obviously his musings that health care should be brought under central administration, to be followed by a discussion as to whether municipalities ought to bear responsibility. Either of those ideas could make sense in principle, but it's hard to find a unifying theme in s platform that proposes centralization first, then a discussion of increased decentralization on a single issue.

Creativity - 8/10

While Pedersen's platform includes some well-worn content, it also raises a reasonable number of new ideas - some of which simply haven't registered as issues, others of which haven't been looked at from the angle which Pedersen offers (e.g. for all the talk about electricity generation, I'm not aware of many others raising the option of phasing out coal-fired power entirely).

Support - 8/10

Pedersen's platform itself is limited to describing his ideas in point form. But having put his ideas in the public eye early, he's had a chance to expand on them and back them up through subsequent press conferences as well as the leadership debate, and has presented strong arguments in favour of his policies when given an opening to do so.

Pragmatism - 6/10

Here's where Pedersen's platform runs into the most significant problems, as a number of his proposals look to be potential lightning rods for criticism and comparatively few would have obvious support constituencies to overcome any opposition. Most notably, Pedersen's call to fundamentally reorganize municipal structures and responsibilities would obviously raise significant opposition among the structures which now handle the issues in question. Meanwhile, there would be few obvious supporters since a general discussion process wouldn't leave any clear beneficiaries until after the fact.

Likewise, a coal power phaseout would naturally be subject to criticism from the parts of the province who depend on it, and a firm timeline for asbestos remediation might meet with resistance as a less than optimal use of public resources - while again there would figure to be a limited number of people willing to take a strong stand on Pedersen's side of the issues.

In sum, there's plenty within Pedersen's platform which deserves more discussion, both in the limited time available in the leadership race and beyond. But there's also plenty of room for additional polish and revision to put Pedersen's vision in terms which are more likely to win broad support - and less likely to raise fierce opposition.

The Big Idea

Unfortunately, an idea which Pedersen himself describes as potentially the "single largest advancement in social justice in 50 years" seems to have received little attention over the course of the campaign. But Pedersen's proposal for a combined system of child care and early learning - with the goal of building toward a universal system incorporating both - would indeed be a massive step forward in developing greater opportunities for Saskatchewan's children.

As with many of Pedersen's proposals, though, there is some concern as to how the idea is structured. Pedersen's plan is to fund the early learning program out of non-renewable resource revenues, using the rationale that one-time resources are best put into investments whose benefits may be felt in the longer term. While that message may have some appeal for the moment (particularly with oil prices beginning to climb again), I'd think there are significant long-term risks in tying a structural program to non-renewable revenues: not only is the resource bound to run out at some point, but even in the short term the viability of the program in its building stages would be entirely at the mercy of commodity prices.

Instead, to build up from the limited child care available to a universal system would seem to me to require a long-term commitment that isn't tied to uncertain revenues. And even if that proves more difficult to sell in the short term (which itself isn't clear since there's no reason why investment can't simply be targeted during resource booms rather than linked to the revenue stream), the long-term goal of implementing the system would make the tougher road more than worth it.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Leadership 2009 Week in Review - May 31

Another week of the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race has passed without any major changes in the candidates' directions. Dwain Lingenfelter's campaign continues to cruise despite some public questions, Ryan Meili has added to his existing support base with some creative outreach efforts, Deb Higgins has stayed off the radar and Yens Pedersen has kept working largely behind the scenes to build support.

Like last week, more of the same figures to work mostly to the advantage of the front-runner. But there are a couple of other shifts in the numbers below (which again are based purely on my guesswork rather than any statistical analysis).

First, the Meili campaign's public push combined with Higgins' lack of much obvious presence would seem likely to position Meili as the magnet for early-ballot support to counter Lingenfelter. That not only puts him in a stronger position in his chances of sticking around to a final ballot against Lingenfelter, but may increase the (still extremely long) odds that he can move into first-ballot territory if Lingenfelter proves to have been damaged more than seems to be the case.

At the same time, though, an early fall from the race for Higgins would also release the pool most likely to have Lingenfelter as a second choice earlier in the voting process than might happen otherwise. Which results in a slight boost to Lingenfelter's chances of coming away with a victory on a later ballot.

With that in mind, then, here's this week's chart:

Candidate 1st Ballot Win Final Ballot Final Ballot Win 4th on 1st Total Win
Dwain Lingenfelter 46 (44) 39 (42) 10 (9) 0 (0) 56 (53)
Ryan Meili 4 (2) 35 (36) 23 (24) 3 (4) 27 (26)
Deb Higgins 0 (0) 21 (25) 15 (19) 6 (4) 15 (19)
Yens Pedersen 0 (0) 5 (5) 2 (2) 41 (46) 2 (2)

Leadership 2009 - Policy Reviews

The four Saskatchewan NDP leadership contenders have handled the question of policy in different ways throughout the race, ranging from Yens Pedersen's early platform rollout to Ryan Meili's gradual unveiling of policies to the more scattershot approaches from Deb Higgins and Dwain Lingenfelter. But less than a week before the vote, it seems fairly safe to say there won't be too much yet to come on the policy front. So now would seem to be an ideal time to take an overall look at each of the candidates' policy proposals.

Before jumping into a candidate-by-candidate review, though, I'll use this post to set out the criteria which look to me to define how a candidate has handled policy questions:

- Thoroughness - has the candidate covered most or all of the public policy areas which members are likely to want to see addressedby a leadership candidate?

- Consistency - is the platform internally consistent, or do the principles underlying some policies conflict significantly with those supporting others?

- Creativity - how much of the platform reflects new additions to the Saskatchewan political scene compared to what's been discussed over the past few years?

- Support - how well does the candidate support the policies within the platform, whether through research, argument or third-party validation?

- Pragmatism - how likely is the platform to be successfully implemented, based on both the public demand which can be mustered in support and the likely degree of resistance?

Note that while I'll be referring to a "platform", I won't be looking only at the policy contents of the candidates' websites. Instead, I'll be incorporating proposals and arguments made in the Commonwealth, in candidate media conferences, and anywhere else that seems to me to shed light on the policy work that's been done during the campaign.

In addition to reviewing the platforms in general based on these principles, I'll also highlight one "big idea" from each candidate which seems to me to reflect their policy choices. So, stay tuned - as while the race may be nearing a close, there's still plenty left to discuss before NDP members cast their final ballots on Saturday.

On pre-emption

It's virtually inevitable that the Libs' spin doctors will rush to pounce on a misleading headline rather than listening to what Jack Layton has actually said about the NDP's strategy for the rest of the spring session. But while the spin may be inevitable regardless of how obviously false it may be, a bit of pre-emption can't hurt. So let's make the NDP's position clear.

The NDP has never propped up the Harper government, and isn't about to start now.

What Jack Layton did say today is that the NDP won't be moving a confidence motion of its own. Instead, its opposition day and other efforts will be directed toward trying to shepherd EI reforms through Parliament.

Now, if one wants to question whether the party's focus should be on removing Harper from power, that would make for a fair issue. Though unlike in January when the Libs decided that they preferred to leave Stephen Harper in charge, there's a serious question about whether there's a realistically available alternative - or whether another election would simply lead back to square one.

But I'd defy anybody to try to spin the following as a message that the Cons can expect any NDP support on a confidence motion:
"What they would want us to do is get their pensions protected, get the EI system fixed. So that's exactly what we've been doing and we'll continue to do that. As to what the other parties will do, they will have to make up their own minds. We're prepared for an election if it comes to it."
For those following along at home, remember that an election is only possible if all three opposition parties vote together to bring down the Cons. Which means that if the NDP was about to vote with the Cons on a confidence motion, there simply wouldn't be any issue about election preparedness, nor any decisions to be made by the other parties.

Instead, Layton is signalling that while his immediate focus is on improving EI before the summer recess, that doesn't mean the Cons can expect the NDP's support if any confidence votes go forward. And it'll still ultimately be for the other parties - especially the Libs - to make the choice to prop up the Cons on any confidence votes if the NDP's efforts at an EI fix don't work out.

A bit too quiet

The first surprisingly silent span for Deb Higgins in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race - covering her January entry into the race through the better part of March - was relatively easily explained at the time as a matter of her campaign taking awhile to get up and running. But it's worth pointing out that her campaign has been even further from the public eye since the end of the leadership debates - and there's little apparent explanation as to why that's happened.

Aside from a single endorsement on May 12, I'm not sure that Higgins' website has changed at all since the April 24 membership deadline - to the point where her own "calendar" has gone blank since a May 23 golf tournament. And as best I can tell, she hasn't held a single media event since the March photo op where she unveiled both her democratic reform platform and an endorsement from Andrew Thomson. (Incidentally, that press conference also seems to be the only event documented on her photo page).

Which isn't to say that Higgins has kept entirely silent: she's appeared a few times in the media since, but seemingly only where somebody else asks for her comment. Higgins was quoted several times during the course of the Lingenfelter membership controversy, but again purely as a matter of reacting to stories which were already circulating. And even in the last week, she's been quoted twice in her critic duties without being covered at all in the leadership race.

But when it comes to presenting herself as a candidate, Higgins seems to have limited her campaign to showing up where asked, rather than defining herself on her own terms. And that choice looks to be a worrisome philosophy from somebody running for the opportunity to chart the course of the NDP as a whole.