Having pointed out in today's column that the Saskatchewan NDP's poor election results were far more readily traced to public perceptions of Dwain Lingenfelter (along with broader party issues) rather than the party's platform, let's briefly put Lingenfelter's leadership in context.
The obvious problem for Lingenfelter was a level of negative perception which started out fairly high from day one, and only increased with each attack ad launched by the Sask Party. Lingenfelter's apparent plan to get on even terms with Brad Wall fell flat, as his early efforts to bring down Wall's popularity level through one-on-one confrontation ultimately offered more fodder for the attacks without laying a glove on Wall's approval ratings. And by the time Lingenfelter pivoted toward a much more positive message as the NDP's platform came together, too many voters had already tuned him out.
But there were also some positives to Lingenfelter's leadership which any successor would do well to emulate.
After a hotly-contested leadership race which produced a narrow win for a controversial frontrunner, one might have expected some public challenges to Lingenfelter's leadership. But that never proved to be a problem - at least in part because of a fairly successful effort to listen to all wings of the NDP and keep them working toward the same ends.
Moreover, while the election didn't produce the results anybody was hoping for, all indications are that the NDP's campaign was better managed and organized than any we've seen in quite some time. Again, the platform was a major plus, featuring plenty of creative ideas which were both nicely targeted toward key voter groups and generally connected by a coherent campaign theme. And a push toward early nominations and accountability at the candidate and EDA level meant that loads of work got done across the province which would have proved invaluable if the base levels of party support had been closer - and may still pay off in the years to come as younger candidates and activists build on what they've learned.
Unfortunately, Lingenfelter's strengths as a manager and strategist were overshadowed by his weaknesses as the public face of the NDP. But as he departs from the political scene, it's well worth recognizing not only what the next leader can learn from Lingenfelter's mistakes, but also the positives the party can draw from his time as leader.