New Sask. NDP leader will be key factor in future of province — if party exists in 2 years
Saturday leadership vote to decide between 2 candidates: Trent Wotherspoon and Ryan Meili
Under the shadow of the Saskatchewan Party's vigorous and sensational campaign to elect its next leader — and by extension this province's next premier — the Saskatchewan NDP has been running its own leadership race.
This Saturday, a vote at the NDP leadership convention in Regina will decide which of two candidates will become the party's next leader: Regina MLA Trent Wotherspoon or Saskatoon Meewasin MLA Ryan Meili.
The NDP has seen a relatively significant influx of new members during the campaign, although not quite the growth in numbers enjoyed by the Sask. Party, which almost tripled its memberships during the recent leadership race.
The number of NDP memberships today is about 13,000, compared to 7,500 at this time last year.
'Existential challenge' for membership
All of those members are now facing an existential challenge on the subject of organizational change, though it may not feel quite that way right now.
The two men vying for the leadership aren't exactly fresh faces and both have run for this job in previous years.
But scraping just a little below the surface will reveal some differences.
Despite promising and guaranteeing that he would not attempt to transition from interim to permanent leader, last summer Regina MLA Trent Wotherspoon announced he'd do exactly that. While one would think the 14 months he spent auditioning for the permanent role would have given him a significant edge, that does not seem to be the case.
Meili has more donations
No clear frontrunner has emerged in the race, which has seen Meili take a significant lead in garnering donations despite announcing early that his campaign would not accept union or corporate donations. Saskatchewan is a province that could easily be perceived as being heavy influenced by political donors, and the Sask. Party leadership race saw certain candidates funded almost solely by select corporations and their owners. In light of this climate, Meili's ability to raise over $157,000 from actual human beings with an individual stake in democracy is compelling.
Sask. Party divided over preference
Familiar faces among Wotherspoon supporters
Meanwhile, Wotherspoon has emerged firmly entrenched in the Saskatchewan NDP status quo, which many Sask. Party strategists and hacks consider a good thing. Wotherspoon's supporters and endorsements include many of the names and faces who have been in the trenches as the party has taken a nosedive in popularity.
A healthy Opposition is absolutely vital to good governance by the party in power. The role of the Opposition is to challenge government policies, hold the government accountable for its actions and, supposedly, to give voters an alternative for consideration in the next election.
What went wrong?
It has given the Saskatchewan government almost total freedom to do whatever they want without scrutiny, especially when coupled with ever-shrinking Saskatchewan newsrooms. That dangerous combination of factors is exactly what led to troubling scandals like the one playing out over the Global Transportation Hub. The result of the related RCMP investigation is yet to be released.
The finger-pointing inside and outside the Saskatchewan NDP party has never really identified what went wrong since the days Dwain Lingenfelter sat in the Opposition Leader's office. Analyzing Lingenfelter's disastrous occupation of that seat is probably a good start, but still doesn't explain why that run of bad luck transferred — was even amplified — through the party's next leader, Broten. The doldrums remained through Trent Wotherspoon's term as interim leader.
Saskatchewan NDP members have two choices. The first option is hinging their party's future on the possibility that the Sask. Party government and premier could implode, leaving Saskatchewan voters little choice but to go back to the NDP. The second option is to risk change, with an overhaul of the party image and policies that could attract voters to come over willingly.
As the Saskatchewan NDP's new leader is unveiled this weekend, it's unlikely that the majority of the province will be watching the results with bated breath. But that doesn't undermine the fact that — like the naming of the new premier — this is a decision of vital importance to the future of our province.
Not only will the NDP's new leader help shape the fate of the Sask. Party government in the next general election two years from now, but the new leader will likely be the factor determining whether the Saskatchewan NDP even still exists two years from now.