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Friday, January 11, 2013 

Saskatchewan New Democrats At Crossroads In Leadership Race

Yens Pedersen is a lawyer, a former president of the Saskatchewan NDP and was a candidate in the 2009 leadership race.

"In two months the Saskatchewan NDP will choose a new leader. But if the NDP wants to form government again, it must renew itself.

So, what would renewal look like under each of the four potential leaders? A simple question put to each would reveal much about the NDP's future direction: "What do you believe is more important - getting elected or achieving your professed goals?"

They would likely avoid answering directly, saying that both are important. But an analysis of each campaign to date hints at the candidates' views on this question, as well as the future of the NDP under their leadership.

Getting elected is the obvious and most important objective for some politicians. This stems from a belief that they only can make a difference as the government in power. Generally, the path to success for this type of politician (and party) requires convincing some people that they share a particular goal.

However, if getting elected is the priority, they will almost always compromise on their promised goals to achieve their real political end - power. The greater the fear of losing, the more they will be driven to expediency. The only time the party will not sacrifice those goals is when it believes it has the support of the public.

Provided the party can find the parade, manoeuvre to get in front and continue to convince people that they share a goal, it is a time-tested and proven path to power.

In contrast, some politicians believe that achieving their professed goals is more important than power. They believe governing is only one of many ways to effect change. (You may scoff that a party whose primary objective isn't to win elections is nothing but a debating club. Rest assured though that winning elections comes a close second.)

This type of politician and party can also be successful, but that requires winning public conversations. When a party that's committed to a particular goal wins both public conversations and government, it can move mountains. But even not in power, such a party may shape policy. Witness, for example, the success of the right-wing idea of continually cutting taxes.
What does this mean for NDP renewal following its leadership race?

Although Cam Broten is trying hard to appeal to goal-oriented party members, he appears to be a first-category politician. He is the least threatening to the status quo, and if the party picks Broten, renewal will be a change of faces and methods but not significant changes to policies or practices.

Trent Wotherspoon makes no secret that his strength is listening and building an inclusive campaign that's not driven by any particular goals. Therefore, he too is in the first category. With Wotherspoon, renewal will not involve significant change to NDP structures or practices, although the public could expect a big-tent party willing to look outside for ideas.

Both Erin Weir and Ryan Meili seem to be in the second category. 

Weir's bold calls for such actions as raising the corporate tax rate appear to be goal-oriented rather than calculated to win broad support. With him at the helm, one can expect to see the NDP pursuing both traditional and new left ideas.

Meili, with his proposal to frame the discussion of policies with how they impact our health, has made a healthier society his primary goal. And while he comes across the least like a traditional politician, his approach may offer a method by which the NDP can win public conversations after three decades of reacting to right-wing ideas.

After losing two general elections, the NDP desperately wants to win. In the 2009 leadership race, it revealed its mindset to be in the first category by picking Dwain Lingenfelter, supposedly because he had the best chance of winning the next election.

Having recently tasted bitter defeat under Lingen-felter, might the party be ready to choose a different kind of renewal with a leader committed to achieving goals?

The NDP is at a crossroads. Party members should ask themselves whether they are more interested in winning elections or in getting things done. Both types of leaders can win elections, but only one is likely to lead to achieving professed goals.
Yens Pedersen

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