Saturday, February 19, 2022

On unhealthy outcomes

Not surprisingly, Ryan Meili's announcement that he'll be stepping down as leader of Saskatchewan's NDP comes as a major disappointment.

To be clear, the decision is understandable both from a personal standpoint given the demands placed on a party leader (particularly with a young family living in Saskatoon), and a political standpoint in light of the backbiting Meili has all too often faced from within the NDP.

But as many of us involved in the party's election review process pointed out, much of the NDP's difficulty in finding its footing over the past decade-plus has been traceable to a complete lack of continuity in leadership. And the election review itself was based on the hope that for once, it would be possible to work on organizational growth and renewal without putting party-building on hold to fight as to who would be charting the party's course.

Sadly, that hope is now gone. Instead, we'll find ourselves at the midway point between provincial elections before choosing another leader, and then once again have to scramble to get a political machine in working order as the election approaches. And this time, that's the result of a self-inflicted wound. 

Meanwhile, from the standpoint of the province as a whole, Meili's message in resigning seems to be misplaced. 

Scott Moe's most recent shift in themes - treating the pandemic as over and any talk of further public health protection as divisive - has never represented anything short of sociopathic dishonesty. There's little meaningful evidence that anything more than a small fraction of the public actually wants to sacrifice public health on the altar of "freedumb!"; there's even less evidence that the results of doing so will be anything but avoidable deaths and severe disabilities, particularly for vulnerable populations including young children and immunocompromised people.

Now, I'd expect Meili will keep up the fight to keep people protected in his continued role as interim leader. But the choice to reinforce the "pandemic is ending!" theme - combined with the fact that Meili will be ceding his pary's leadership - only ensures Moe will perceive no possible political cost to giving full expression to his utter contempt for the lives of his constituents. And political risk of course been the only factor that's ever driven him to deviate from the hardest of hard-right governance.

That imbalance in political will in the face of a COVID wave cresting (and a more dangerous one developing) is particularly jarring in contrast to the start of the pandemic, which sadly looks in retrospect like the highlight of Meili's leadership. While Moe slammed the door on any consultation and his party laughed about COVID-19, Meili's response was simply to call publicly for basic steps to protect people's health - and out of self-preservation if nothing else, Moe fell into a pattern of implementing most of Meili's proposals in a matter of days. 

Now, Moe has emerged emboldened in his determination to treat COVID with absolute denial and disdain. And however understandable the motivations for Meili's choice, it's hard to see the result as anything but yet another blow to Saskatchewan's political and social health.

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