Saskatchewan NDP divided on nuclear power

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The dust has not settled from the recent Saskatchewan NDP leadership convention where Dwain Lingenfelter was narrowly elected leader. Ryan Meili, the candidate to whom the progressive vote rallied, got 45 per cent of the vote, and Lingenfelter, who entered the race with a coronation in mind, won with 55 per cent of the vote.

The RCMP is now investigating whether there was possible forgery in the way that memberships were secured for the Lingenfelter campaign. (‘RCMP to probe membership fraud,’ Saskatoon StarPhoenix, June 12, 2009). This raises questions about whether there was a legitimate vote for party leader. Were there other possible irregularities that affected the final vote tally?

And, underneath all the dust and tumble is a widening fissure in the party on nuclearization. This dynamic played out on the convention floor, and will now be a major struggle between the party apparatus and a majority of the NDP caucus versus the grassroots of the party.

The convention passed an anti-nuclearization, pro-renewable development resolution. The resolution stated, “Be it resolved that an NDP government will not pursue research into the nuclear option and will not investigate building a reactor or storing nuclear waste under any circumstances but will instead commit resources to researching and producing alternative energies such as wind, solar, geo thermal and small scale hydro to meet energy needs and its greenhouse gas commitments”.

Over many years the NDP in Saskatchewan has had a major debate on the production and use of uranium (Saskatchewan is one of the largest uranium producers in the world). The NDP did have a strong anti-nuclearization position 20 years ago, but with the growing strength of the corporate nuclear lobby and the compliance of the Roy Romanow government this position was lost.

Lingenfelter’s running for NDP leadership was to reaffirm a strong commitment to nuclear development and the linking of nuclear energy to the tar sands development in Alberta and Saskatchewan.  His most recent job background reflected that as a senior vice president for Nexen Oil in Calgary.

This winning on the floor of a formal party anti-nuclear stance is a major challenge to his leadership. Right after the vote he challenged the validity of an official convention of the NDP to make this decision and said he would go to the 13,000 members of the NDP  to get there opinion and direction.

And, this is where the continuing struggle will lie. Will the membership of the NDP embrace a progressive, pro-green, anti-nuclear approach or will Lingenfelter be able to shape his own agenda through a dominant influence on the party membership?

The forces that supported Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen are strong in the grassroots.  The party convention also passed a resolution on policy called 'Sowing the Seeds' which laid out a pathway to regenerating social democracy in a progressive direction.

The next year will set the stage of where the NDP in Saskatchewan will finally settle –- a progressive party, or a regressive party.


Don Kossick is a longtime community organizer and actitivist. He was a candidate for the NDP in Saskatchewan in the 2004 and 2006 federal elections. Don produces that airs on web radio and community radio.

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