Legislative Report (31 May 2007)

Calvert NDP in Full Crisis Mode

"Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times." - Winston Churchill

The people of Saskatoon were treated to a rare spectacle a few days back. Long time NDP MLA Pat Atkinson packed a room in a local restaurant with her supporters to make an important announcement: she’s not quitting.

Atkinson decided she will not be joining seven of her caucus colleagues who are calling it quits while in still power instead of risking ignominious defeat in the next election. It must have been a tough call, given Ms. Atkinson’s inconsistent comments on the public record.

On Monday, she was telling reporters “The reality is that sometimes you come to the point where it’s time to do something else and maybe try out a new profession, so there’s been a number of factors that I’ve weighed”. Two days later, Atkinson performed an abrupt about face. Atkinson’s announcement said less about her and more about the state of her party. When an NDP MLAs decision to stay constitutes a major development, that says a lot about the current environment.

Seven of Atkinson’s colleagues reached the opposite conclusion. They will not be running. What this amounts to is a non-confidence motion condemning the leadership of Lorne Calvert from within the ranks of his own caucus. However, unlike motions introduced in the Assembly, this time the members are voting with their feet.

The departures come on the heels of what has been described as one of the worst sessions of the Legislative Assembly ever endured by a government. There were revelations of fraud in the NDP caucus—a fraud that was concealed from police for several years and concealed from the public for some 15 years. The NDP Caucus Chief of Staff was forced to resign when Regina’s Chief of Police directly contradicted his version of events. The NDP’s House Leader, Glenn Hagel resigned after the RCMP’s Commercial Crime Section began conducting an investigation of the case.

What makes Ms. Atkinson’s decision to stay on all the more surprising is the extent to which she was forced into the role of apologist for the NDP’s actions in the Murdoch Carriere matter. Atkinson had to answer dozens of questions regarding the NDP’s $275,000 payment to Murdoch Carriere.

Here was a man who was convicted of assault and fired for harassment after years of complaints from the women who worked for him. When the complaints grew too serious and too numerous to ignore, the NDP moved Mr. Carriere to Regina, prompting an outrage amongst the women involved in lodging the complaints and a leak to the media. Mr. Carriere was then fired and sued for wrongful dismissal. Although the NDP did not fight this in the court, Mr. Carriere essentially won, as the train wreck ended with the cash payment to him.

Ms. Atkinson, long a champion of gender equity, was placed in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the NDP’s poor handling of the case. She was forced to answer dozens of questions from the Saskatchewan Party about the Carriere matter. Her discomfort in this role was almost palpable.

Now, Ms. Atkinson makes news by maintaining the status quo. She will run, but this does not end Lorne Calvert’s problems. As the NDP continues to flounder without vision or direction, others will share Ms. Atkinson’s indecision.

Some, like her, will stay. Others will likely join those who have decided to leave. Lorne Calvert’s talent pool will grow increasingly shallow. While Saskatchewan should be maximizing all of its potential for growth, Lorne Calvert will be attempting to patch together a team that can keep the sinking ship afloat.

And Mr. Calvert will have to remain ever vigilant for signs of a revolt similar to the one that lead to the abrupt and unceremonious departure of Kevin Yates from his job as Minister of Corrections and Public Safety.

The Saskatchewan NDP is facing a serious crisis. Lorne Calvert has few competent, experienced MLAs to replace those who are leaving.

This is the worst kind of crisis to manage—a crisis from within.

If you have a question about this report or any other matter, just Contact Lyle.

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