The NDP’s Ryan Meili pokes a big bear with a little stick

Editorial | by Stephen Whitworth

Ryan Meili

Ryan Meili isn’t timid, that’s for sure. On March 9 at a Canadian Union of Public Employees conference in Saskatoon, the provincial NDP’s new leader practically dared Premier Scott Moe to call an early election. “I don’t think we’ve got a government that has a mandate, nor really the trust of the people. An opportunity to go to the polls would be very wise,” the CBC reported him saying.

Meili is poking a very big, very strong bear with a very small stick. The Saskatchewan Party would seem to be much better positioned for an early election than the NDP. As the business community’s preferred political option, the governing Sask. Party have the cash to squash electoral challenges, especially now — right after the NDP’s leadership contest — when the majority of the province’s potential swing voters (who the NDP need) don’t even know what a “Meili” is.

Then again, maybe it was shrewd. Meili’s challenge was publically rejected by Premier Moe (it will always be weird typing that), who said the Sask. Party is committed to its set election dates. Meili put the premier on the record, and if Moe DOES call an early vote hoping to crush the vulnerable NDP, voters might remember and punish him for it. Perhaps the new leader of the Opposition bought his NDP some much-needed time.

It’s a high-risk, high reward start for Meili. Might or might not be good for the NDP; we’ll see. At least it’s interesting.

In Praise Of Union Dollars

Speaking of Ryan Meili: during the NDP leadership contest he argued for banning union political donations. It was a successful club against his challenger, Trent Wotherspoon, who had accepted them in his campaign.

Meili’s position is taken as an article of faith these days: we need to get “big money” out of politics, and that means both corporate and union donations have gotta go.

I can see why progressives push for this, but this is just the wrong way to look at the issue.

There’s no equivalency here. Corporate and business influence in Canadian politics is infinitely greater than labour’s. What union has billionaire members and billion-dollar profits to spend? The United Federation of Private Jet Owners? The International Brotherhood of Offshore Tax Evaders? I’m not sure those are actual unions.

The corporate sector, on the other hand … well, you can Google “Business Council of Canada” and look at its CEO-studded board of directors as easily as I can.

What unions DO have are salaried and shift workers whose democratically elected leadership has modest resources to spend on its members’ political interests. It’s grassroots stuff. I don’t see the problem.

But hey, let’s “be fair” and ban both union and corporate donations. That’ll take out labour and help the side with teams of lawyers and a thousand times the wealth. They’ll fund a few “independent” political action committees, get legions of their managers to make “individual” donations, and personally write cheques far beyond what 99.9 per cent of Canadians can afford.

Good thing we got rid of union cash, huh?

Money in politics is a core problem that needs reform and the desire to tackle it is all kinds of right on. This isn’t a simplistic issue, though. If reformers aren’t extremely careful, the only thing getting union bucks out of the system will do is give CEOs and other elite donors even more influence.

In a province and country that’s been propagandized to accept a fraudulent trifecta of neoliberal nonsense — austerity, tax cuts and privatization, I’m looking at you — I think the wealthy have too much influence already.