Cam Broten: The Sask Party's New Threat

April 1st, 2013 | J. Hodgson 

“I’m principled as a New Democrat...uh...in wanting to build a more equal society and having a greener future.” - Cam Broten, leader of the Saskatchewan NDP


When you think of Saskatchewan you think of two things: Cigar chomping capitalists driving their Cadillac’s through the dirty slums and massive amounts of toxic pollution. That’s why Cam Broten wants so desperately to remake Saskatchewan into the land of equality and environmentalism.

Yikes.

Is this guy an empty suit or a real threat?

“Today after years of lagging behind the rest of the provinces in this country, we are leading in so very many respects and we are not going back,” - Brad Wall, 2011 victory speech.

In 2011, Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party won a landslide victory against the NDP. They won a record breaking 62% of the popular vote and reduced the opposition NDP to 9 seats. The last time the NDP were reduced to 9 seats was in 1982.

That’s right...1982. When Grant Devine won a landslide victory against the NDP. For those old enough to remember, this was the moment that the NDP were supposed to be eliminated from the Saskatchewan landscape. Saskatchewan had matured beyond the need for NDP paternalism. The future was bright and leaning right!

That all came to a crashing end by dysfunction and corruption.

Brad Wall needs to learn this lesson from the past. It’s not enough to be likable. It’s not enough to extol mindless Saskatchewan boosterism. It’s not enough to just not be the NDP.

With the election of Cam Broten, the NDP have shed all vestiges of the “old guard” NDP and the baggage that  includes. The division between the old left and the new left has now been resolved. As a result, there are now 4 big problems for the Saskatchewan Party looming on the horizon.

#1. Cam Broten is not an unlikable character.

Dwain Lingenfelter was an unlikable candidate. He really burned the bridge for Saskatchewan voters when he left the province for a sweet job with Nexen out in Calgary. A year after he left for his sweet job, Nexen acquired Wascana Energy and the NDP changed the legislation to allow the HQ of Wascana Energy to be moved to Calgary and rolled into Nexen.

Coincidence?

Probably. People still felt it was shady. The opportunistic way he swept back into the province expecting a hero’s welcome and the voter fraud allegations surrounding the leadership bid...well...it looked and felt slimy to average voters. Dwain was also married and divorced. He then got remarried to a woman that left her marriage for him. Then the two of them divorced. Then he got remarried again.
We can pretend that this doesn’t at all matter, but we all know it does. Especially in Saskatchewan where quiet social conservatism runs deep. (Even amongst NDP’ers)

Cam Broten has been a policy wonk for medical and cultural organizations. No backroom, big money dealings hidden in the closet. He’s also got one wife and two little kids. He goes to church. He vacations at his wife’s family farm. He likes canoe rides.

It’s simply impossible to smear the guy. Dwain Lingenfelter only had to show up and he smeared himself. Brad Wall looked like Captain Saskatchewan next to him. The problem with Cam Broten is the Saskatchewan socialists have found their own version of Brad Wall. The likable Saskatchewan boy who done good.

The Saskatchewan Party is going to need a far more sophisticated campaign against a leader like this.

#2. Rumour has it that Cam Broten is not insanely left-wing.

The Saskatchewan Party has been the beneficiary of the modernization of Saskatchewan. Part of this modernization is a cultural shift to the right of the political spectrum. The more time marches forward, the more entrenched conservative politics becomes. The debates of the 1970’s, (wage and price controls, nationalization of industry etc.) are so far removed from the modern experience that they read like foreign concepts.

What does this mean?

It means that left-wing parties in Canada have had to adjust to this changing landscape and prioritize their battles. The centre of Canadian politics has moved to the right and political parties that fail to reflect this cultural change are locked out of power. Jack Layton spent nearly a decade trying to veer the Federal NDP into mainstream territory and finally succeeded in breaking through to official opposition status. All his hard work is now being rapidly undone by Tom Mulcair, an angry bearded socialist hardliner that can’t keep the radical members of the party quiet. The result will be a catastrophic federal election loss for the NDP in 2015.

Cam Broten seems to instinctively understand this new reality. Unlike second place finisher, Ryan Meili, Cam kept his policy ideas limited to motherhood statements and “brighter future” speeches. There was no talk about new crown corporations and new taxes and union expansions. Cam kept it simple, so that he can fill in the blanks later and remain flexible in the meantime.

This is still the NDP we’re talking about, so I don’t imagine lame issues like climate change and gender equity will be completely disappear, but the party brand will most likely moderate. Moderation builds voter coalitions and voter coalitions win elections.

#3. Cam Broten is going after the Saskatchewan Party’s integrity, not their policy.

The longer a government is in power the more open they are to attacks on their credibility. Mistakes are made and scandals unfold. Some are mountains, but most are molehills. If you want to attack the Saskatchewan Party, then criticizing their overall policy is probably not the way to go.

Saskatchewan has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. Saskatchewan is the only province in the country with a balanced budget. Saskatchewan has had a 5 year leading average in GDP growth. Saskatchewan has...well...you get the picture.

The Saskatchewan Party is succeeding.

Cam Broten isn’t criticising the policy...just the finesse with which the Saskatchewan Party is delivering it. Looking for mismanagement and scandal and mistakes is a dumber strategy, but an effective one. This will slowly put the Saskatchewan Party on the defensive, since they have to defend themselves...not what they do...but who they are.

Which leads to...

#4. Voters will begin itching for change soon.

Something political junkies don’t like to admit is that, regardless of success or ability, voters eventually just get tired of having the same party in power. This is pretty standard democracy in action. Most political parties have a lifespan of roughly ten years, before voters decide to give someone else a chance.

Why do they do this?

Usually, little gaffes and mistakes and scandals just slowly culminate in the minds of the voters. Eventually the ruling party looks too familiar and comfortable. Too much baggage and too many compounded mistakes begin to make the ‘out of power party’ look desirable by default.

Since the NDP first won a seat in 1934, they have never been out of power for more than two terms in a row. When the next election rolls around in 2015, voters may be looking beyond Brad Wall for something new. It doesn’t matter if he’s doing a good job or not, it might start to feel like it’s time for a change.

This momentum is on Cam Broten’s side. The longer the Saskatchewan Party is in power, the better the chances are that someone else will win. If the Saskatchewan Party wants to create a long term dynasty like next door Alberta has done, then they will need to find a way to reinvent the party with each election victory.

Conclusion

The Saskatchewan Party needs to be very leery of Cam Broten. If Brad Wall succumbs to his own popular press and allows his ego to do the governing, we’ll be looking at a very competitive election in a couple of years. The NDP is a sharp, dirty, and now hungry party looking for Brad Wall’s destruction. Cam Broten needs to be taken seriously, or the Saskatchewan Party and the province which shares the name is doomed.