Saskatchewan politics

Sask. Party Leadership Race: And The Winner Is*…(Nevermind)

As predicted, Premier Brad Wall has stepped down, sparking a Saskatchewan Party leadership race that promises to be as bloody as it is divisive, with candidates getting their buses ready to drive over anyone whose actions (past or present) threaten their chances at the top spot. Sask. Party brass are doing everything they can to control the decorum, message AND the outcome of the race, but it won’t work, because there’s simply too many candidates. Seriously, did anyone learn anything from the Republican primary, or even the federal conservative leadership race, overloaded with leadership hopefuls tearing each other, and by extension, their party brand, to the ground?

There’s so much to talk about – why Wall’s departure and replacement feels rushed, comparisons to the NDP leadership race, etc – but today I’m not going to do anything other than wildly and prematurely speculate about the Sask. Party’s race. The NDP’s is still eight months away from a decision, so that post will come later. After that, I’m going to endorse a candidate from each party, not because I think anyone actually cares who I choose, but because I think it’s worthwhile to spend some time focusing on the positive leadership potential from both sides of the floor.

For now, with the Sask. Party entry deadline still a few days away, this post is obviously imperfect. Some of these folks may not jump in at all, and there may be someone(s) I’m missing. But, you amazing readers have been asking for an analysis, so let’s do this.

Who’s In?

Let’s start with those who’ve announced, obvs.

Tina Beaudry-Mellor

Pros: I admire her for stepping up, and for her earnestness. “As a woman who has always advocated for women in leadership roles I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t throw my feet in as well,” Beaudry-Mellor told reporters after she declared her intentions. Her first Cabinet position was Minister of Social Services, a massive, stressful and labor-intensive role, so even if her performance wasn’t perfect, she’s clearly not afraid to take on a challenge.

Cons: “If this is really about renewal then I see (political inexperience) as an advantage, not a disadvantage,” said Beaudry-Mellor, demonstrating nicely why it’s not an advantage at all, given anyone with real political chops would never actually say that to reporters. Further, she claims to have some “sense of some nuance” over the social issues facing this province, presumably thanks to her role as Social Services Minister, but also pointing to facts like she once worked at a food bank. Just… no. Tina, you’re an upper class white woman who does things like post bizarre pictures of yourself lounging on outdoor furniture worth more than most Social Services’ clients (or probably my own) entire household contents, so let’s ratchet that rhetoric back a bit.

Forecast: Not a chance. Beaudry-Mellor will secure some, but not all by any means, of the support of her fellow female caucus members. However, she won’t garner nearly enough overall support in Regina, and virtually none in Saskatoon or rural Saskatchewan. However, her supporters’ subsequent choices will be important, so you’ll see her treated with kid gloves by the other candidates in an effort to secure those votes.

Jeremy Harrison

Pros: He’s been a politician since before he hit puberty which may or may not have only been last year, and is super-tight with federal conservative leader Andrew Scheer, so his campaign should be well-organized with a strong(ish) network.

Cons: According to insiders, Harrison is not particularly popular with the right people, or really any people, within the Sask. Party. He’s tainted, badly, by his robotic, inane defense of the GTH scandal over the past year; a sentiment which has permeated even the most a-political of households. Further, Harrison won’t be the only conservative in the race, so he can’t count on that entire network.

Forecast: I highly doubt it. His particular combination of Cons will make it difficult for him to sell new memberships, and those Cons far outweigh his Pros. However, the theory regarding Beaudry-Mellor’s supporters’ preferential choices also applies to Harrison, so I don’t think you’ll see too many long knives out for him. Not overtly, anyway.

Undeclared (Yet) But Definitely In

Kevin Doherty

Pros: Ummm – he’s relatively well-known in Regina? He probably has some favors he can call in? I don’t know, I’ll need more time on this one. Like, eternity.

Cons: Doherty just delivered one of the most disastrous, incompetent budgets in Saskatchewan history. He could be cuddling puppies and still come across as angry and unlikeable – in fact, I’ve heard him referred to by Sask. Party member as Elwin Hermanson 2.0. Need I say more?

Forecast: He’ll probably make it past the first ballot, and then his support will scatter, none of it cohesive enough to make it worthwhile for the other contenders to broker any cross-endorsement deals with him. Therefore he’ll be a popular and easy target for his competitors, and likely on the receiving end of attacks from candidates like Beaudry-Mellor, who needs to prove she’s tough enough to be Saskatchewan’s first female premier (I’m not saying that’s fair, but I am saying it’s reality). More importantly, she needs to sway as much Regina-based support as possible away from Doherty.

Ken Cheveldayoff

Pros: He’ll be the other contender for the federal conservative members’ support, and he’ll get more of it than Jeremy Harrison. He’s notoriously good at selling memberships, and will have every penny of the $250,000 spending limit at his disposal. Honestly, Chevy is smart and pretty likeable, and would probably be a decent premier – sentiments which are not going to be difficult for his campaign to sell. Further, Cheveldayoff has been quietly campaigning for this job since 2003, and has a faction of the Sask. Party who have always supported him for leadership.

Cons: For as much as Chevy has supporters, his decade or more of backroom lobbying against Wall has earned him good chunk of enemies within the Sask. Party base, meaning his fellow caucus members might be skittish about endorsing him. An urban-based MLA and businessman, he might also struggle to pickup the all-important rural support.

Forecast: Pretty good. He’ll pick up Harrison’s support on the second ballot, probably Doherty’s, maybe even a few of Gord Wyant’s, as well as a decent chunk of everyone else who might see him as a safe alternative to their first choice. He could make it to the final vote.

Gord Wyant

Pros: Wyant, basically one of the last liberals inside the so-called coalition that is the Sask. Party, at least sits more towards centre than any other candidate, which could equal membership sales to those who’ve felt alienated by its hard right-wing turn of late. He’s been competent and steady-handed as Justice Minister, as well as in his previous Cabinet appointments. He has a solid support base in Saskatoon, including his well-known and respected family, as well as from his days as a Saskatoon City Councilor.

Cons: That whole liberal bit doesn’t exactly sit well with the red-meat conservative base that has taken over the Sask. Party echelons. He’s a solid contender who poses a serious threat to the current Sask. Party configuration, making him the target (already, and he hasn’t even announced yet) of a not-to-subtle smear campaign executed both in whispers and the rambling soliloquies of a certain radio talk show host.

Forecast: Also very good. Money won’t be an issue for his campaign, and he’ll be a safe second ballot choice for Beaudry-Mellor’s supporters, who will also likely lean towards centre, and for Saskatoon members who went another direction first. Wyant is a solid choice for final ballot.

Alanna Koch

Pros: Important people, including Brad Wall, have got her back. In fact, this process started in May of 2016, when Wall made the strange decision to appoint Koch, a hard-nosed Devine-conservative-now-Sask. Party partisan, as his deputy minister – a role that historically has been reserved for non-partisan, career civil servants. By putting her in this role, Wall gave Koch a front row seat to the inner workings of not only the government, but executive council and caucus. If she does indeed have Wall’s support, which all indicators suggest she does, she will enjoy access to any number of supports and resources for her campaign.

Cons: “Alanna who?” Koch is a faithful Sask. Party soldier, but not exactly a household name. She’s totally unproven in the elected political arena, making her a risk for 2020 re-election, which will cause concern for members already seeing that outcome as potentially shaky. Koch is not exactly the face of the “renewal” Wall has been touting, given she’s been by his side and integral to the execution of many of the decisions over the past year which have played a role in the Saskatchewan government’s and Wall’s support plunging. She needs to beware of who is seen to be supporting her, and gauge whether or not that actually helps or hinders her campaign. 

Forecast: Good with a chance of total disaster. She’s got the support of the right people – if this was 2007. The Sask. Party honchos are desperate to install a woman as the next leader, which is cool, though I’m not sure it’s for the right reasons. If she’s seen as overconfident or someone who is being parachuted into the role, this already divisive race could backfire on her spectacularly. However if genuinely stands out as a solid candidate for who she is and how she campaigns, plus she enjoys the added support supposedly being guaranteed to her in the backroom, she could win this thing. But I doubt it.

Jim Reiter

Pros: He’s rural, home to the Sask. Party’s strongest and most loyal membership. In fact, Reiter has decades of experience, prior to being elected in his Rosetown riding in 2007, working within Saskatchewan’s monolithic Rural Municipality (RM) administration system, or as I like to call them, regional Sask. Party campaign offices. If Reiter can tap into that RM network and roll out a rural campaign, he could have this in the bag.

Cons: He’s not a leader. Seriously, according to some Sask. Party caucus members, “Jim Reiter couldn’t make a decision if his life depended on it’ – yes, that’s a quote. Also, rumor has it he won’t garner the crucial endorsement of Agriculture Minister and farmer-extraordinaire Lyle Stewart, to whom many rural Sask. Party members will be looking to for guidance when completing their ballots.

Forecast: Really good, because he could wind up being the Compromise Candidate – basically the guy that nobody really wants, but also the guy everybody wants way more than someone else. He’s vanilla, he’s safe – he’s a great compromise for, say, the rabidly-conservative Harrison supporter, who if his candidate isn’t going to win, will do anything to ensure liberal hacks like Wyant and Beaudry-Mellor, or conservative archrival Ken Cheveldayoff, don’t take home the top prize.

Wild Cards

Names being bandied about by wishful thinkers and conspiracy theorists.

Brad Trost – I think he likes the attention that comes with the speculation and has no intention of running. Even if he did, there is no chance the Sask. Party would accept his candidacy. They’ll say it’s because he’s an elected official at another level of government which could give him an unfair advantage, but the reality is Trost is a) toxic, and b) there’s no chance the Sask. Party is going to risk a membership-list leak like the one Trost’s federal leadership campaign was fined $50,000 over.

Kelly Block – nope.

Rob Norris – this is who I was hoping would jump in to the race, but word is he’s not going too. I’m guessing that’s because he’s got a great job, and knows an impending trainwreck when he sees one.

Former Saskatoon mayor Don Atchison – lol.

SaskParty MLA and backbencher Steve Bonk – a dead ringer for Seinfeld’s David Puddy, this guy could have had the optics-factor (important whether you like it or not) down pat. But no.

And The Winner Is…

Today (and this could change tomorrow) my prediction is Jim Reiter. The race is too crowded with too many diverse candidates for anyone to get 50% + 1 on the first, second or maybe even third or fourth ballot. It’s going to come down to Gord Wyant, Reiter, Cheveldayoff and Koch. If conservatives Chevy and Koch get knocked out, their supporters are not going to move over to liberal Wyant. If Wyant and Chevy get knocked out, their supporters (especially Wyant’s) are not going to go to former Grant Devine-staffer Koch. If Koch and Wyant get knocked out, some of Koch’s supporters might move over to Chevy, but not enough, as they’ll be Wall loyalists – aka Never-Chevys.

In other words, in all final-ballot scenarios, the opponents’ support moves to Reiter because there’s no chance it’s moving to the either guy or girl. IOW, Reiter might not be even close to everybody’s first choice, but he’s not terrible, so he’ll win.

Of course, it is completely ridiculous for me to be making projections this early and I’m probably totally out to lunch. Around here we call that another day ending in Y.

I’m not big on comments (I normally shut them off or am too lazy to go through and approve them), but I’m feeling ambitious today, so let’s start a discussion. Who do you think should run? Who will be the next leader of the Sask. Party, and thereby premier of Saskatchewan? Who should be the next leader of the Sask. Party, and thereby next premier of Saskatchewan?

Happy prognosticating!

*I told you I was probably out to lunch – at least I got that one right. Jim Reiter has pulled out of the SaskParty leadership race:

reiter

For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in media and public relations. Email me anytime at tammyrobert@live.ca

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