Saturday, March 12, 2022

#SKNDPLDR 2022 Overview - No Certainty, or No Contest?

I've posted previously about the loss for party and province that is Ryan Meili's resignation from the leadership of Saskatchewan's NDP. And as I'll discuss in this and posts to come, that factor will cast a long shadow over the new leadership campaign and beyond.

But with Meili stepping down - and with multiple top-tier candidates having ruled out runs or even declined movements to draft them into the race - the main question now is whether the leadership will be contested seriously (or at all).

Anybody else considering entering the race will need to have a plan to compete against a strong frontrunner. Carla Beck has started the campaign by assembling substantial support both within the current caucus and among prominent members. And she easily meets a basic checklist for the leadership position as a well-liked and effective MLA who can boast strong connections throughout the party, an urban base and rural roots, and the appealing prospect of finally breaking the gender barrier for the NDP's permanent leadership.

But then, there's the reminder of the shoes the new leader will have to fill:

For all Beck's merits, it's a high bar for her - or anybody else - to approach Meili's principled opposition, especially when it comes to the fundamental building blocks of a healthy society. And it's unlikely we'll see Beck tested much under the type of safe, low-content campaign which she's run so far - and which she'll have every incentive to continue running as long as there isn't any serious competition. 

I'd thus think even Beck's own supporters would recognize the value in ensuring there's a contest rather than an acclamation. But who can plausibly make that happen?

Most obviously, the past two leadership campaigns have been marked by the success of Saskatoon MLAs against Regina competitors. And that may be in part due to a structural advantage for somebody who starts out with greater name recognition in Saskatchewan's largest city, while also spending enough time in Regina during legislative sessions to make connections. 

With Betty Nippi-Albright having already (if unfortunately) ruled out a run, that still leaves a few intriguing possibilities. I'd view an environmentally-focused campaign from Erika Ritchie as a particularly desirable counterweight to the unfortunate view of some within the party that the next leader should be even more deferential to the oil sector than is currently the normal practice. But any of Ritchie, Jennifer Bowes, Vicki Mowat or Matt Love could run a competitive campaign while offering a voice to people who want to expand the range of possibilities for the party. 

In contrast, any candidate running a campaign based primarily in Regina figures to face an uphill battle due to both Beck's own prominence locally, and the immediate boost to her campaign provided by much of the city's NDP establishment. With the stress on parents of younger children being a major them in both how the campaign was precipitated and who's ruled out a run so far, it may be too much to hope for Meara Conway to throw her hat in the ring - and it's hard to see who outside of caucus would pose much of a challenge. 

Outside of geographic considerations, there's also the question of policy positioning. Beck herself is roughly in the middle of the road within the NDP, and it's hard to see much of a push coming from the neoliberal centre in the absence of a clear path to power. But the progressive wing which helped build behind Meili will surely be looking for somebody to challenge Beck while also building a profile for battles to come. 

There's also the prospect of some generational considerations coming into play. With the party apparatus largely in the hands of an older generation and Beck having taken on the status of the establishment candidate, there's a prospect that younger supporters and voters might work on providing an alternative while carving out their own places within the party. 

Of course, all the arguments for a competitor run into the realities of a campaign in which Beck already has a head start - and where there will be little time in which to try to sign up new members to make up the gap. 

For now, the above leaves more questions than answers as to who else might join the race. But the hope for now has to be that the election of a new leader doesn't devolve into an acclamation - and that both Beck and the party are strengthened for it regardless of how the campaign turns out.

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