Friday, October 23, 2009

Dwain Lingenfelter and the Politics of Ambition

Saskatchewan NDP leader accused of undermining predecessor

When Dwain Lingenfelter was elected leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, many hailed his coming as trouble for Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party.

Lingenfelter was pegged as a political brawler -- as someone who would get down and dirty with the government.

But it was Lingenfelter himself who stumbled away from the Legislature with a black eye, as Wall dropped what could be seen as a political atom bomb on the NDP leader, when he told the Legislature about a phone call he received from Lingenfelter in 2003.

"He phoned me at my home before the '04 election to give me advice on how to beat the former leader of the NDP," Wall announced. "It was just towards the end of summer and he was saying, 'You know [Lorne Calvert] has this summer tour every year.'"

Wall would later correct himself by explaining he was speaking about the 2003 election.

Wall insists that Lingenfelter suggest the Saskatchewan party "be a little bit more aggressive" with Calvert and organize protests on each stop of his annual summer tour.

Wall says Lingenfelter shared the NDP playbook used against Grant Devine.

"He was telling me about the tactics they'd used in the 1980s against Mr Devine," Wall added.

If Lingenfelter's goal in making the alleged phone call -- he insists he "doesn't recall" making it -- was to engineer Calvert's defeat and clear the way for Lingenfelter to replace him, it didn't quite work out like that.

The NDP held onto a slim two seat majority in the Legislature, as the Liberal party who had propped up Calvert's government after the 1999 election (in which the NDP won half the seats in the Legislature plus retaining the Speaker of the House) was utterly wiped out. They haven't elected a member since.

The 2003 election didn't result in the replacement of Lorne Calvert, but it was the last election contested with Elwin Hermanson at the helm of the Saskatchewan Party. Wall replaced him and went on to defeat the NDP in the 2007 election.

For his own part, Lingenfelter insists that Wall is just using the tactics of distraction.

"He tried to change the channel yesterday to something other than finance, and today he's trying to change it so the press run off in a different direction and talk about other things," Lingenfelter said. "The issue here is finance and the fiscal state of the province, and this is what I'm hearing from the public."

Lingenfelter's motives in making such a phone call would be a matter of speculation. He was considered a lock to replace Roy Romanow as the leader of the NDP before he left to work in the private sector in 2000.

Having lost an acrimonious leadership contest to Calvert would have made his actions make a little more sense. In the absence of this, one has to assume that either Lingenfelter didn't approve of Calvert's actions as Premier, or that he may not have made the call.

Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Bill Boyd, however, with whom Lingenfelter is said to maintain a friendship, has noted that Lingenfelter has frequently given him advice.

Whether Lingenfelter's alleged phone call was made out of his love for fostering a good political scrap or in support of his own political ambitions is knowledge that only one individual -- Dwain Lingenfelter himself -- is privy to.

He likely has some 'splainin' to do within his own caucus.

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