@ryanMeili Monday – What Role, If Any, Does Family Play in the #skndpldr Race?

I hope everyone had a Happy Family Day (as brought to you by the Sask NDP in 2007…although to be fair, the original and longest-standing Family Day in Canada was brought in by those pro-family, and apparently anti-business, Conservatives in Alberta.)

So what other topic is there to discuss today except what impact the candidates’ families may have in this Leadership Race?

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that this can be (is?) a sensitive subject. I’m going to be a lot of uniformed speculating and I’ll probably put my foot in my mouth repeatedly. So with that disclaimer out of the way (but not knowing better than to think of some other angle for today’s post), let’s jump right in the deep end…

Okay, so what role has family played in this leadership race?

The ideal answer is that this is about the four individual candidates and their families aren’t (and shouldn’t) be part of the process. But to varying degrees, each has seen involvement from family members, immediate and extended, in many different ways from the beginning of the race (and before – presumably spouses and family had input into candidates’ decisions *to* run) so there is clearly impact.

It goes right to the fact that both Cam, and to a lesser degree, Erin, have evoked the memory of grandparents who were involved in the CCF as a way to add legitimacy to their candidacies by demonstrating their deep family roots in the party.

Moving to the present, one of the most obvious influences was seen during the first month of the leadership race – both Trent and Cam had substantial contributions from people who shared the same surname (although to be fair, there could be other family members who don’t share a candidate’s surname donating to any of the four including Ryan and Erin.)

Another slightly less obvious impact, perhaps only noticeable if you read the candidates’ bios – but which is actually a fairly significant way that the otherwise very similar candidates differ - is the make-up of their immediate families. Cam Broten has two young children, Ryan Meili has one who I think is also younger than both of Cam’s kids, Trent Wotherspoon is married but has no children and Erin Weir is not married. (I almost put “not *yet* married” but that’s more like the kind of assumptive statement my seventy-year old aunt would say! Foot in mouth count = 1!)

For some (including my wife) having kids immediately gives Cam and Ryan a bit more legitimacy for some topics such as childcare. It’s one thing for Erin and Trent to understand the idea conceptually, it’s another for Cam and Ryan to have (presumably if Saskatoon is anything like Regina) called around to a bunch of daycares and heard exactly how long they’d have to wait to get in or how far they might have to drive to get a spot in a daycare that has room or, when they go to check it out, realise “This is what I have to settle for?” (I can’t remember his exact words but Cam said something along those lines in the second Regina debate.)

The other impact can be in terms of support you get from your immediate family. For example, my sense is that Cam and Ryan’s wives have both chosen to assist very quietly and behind-the-scenes whereas Trent’s wife has been a constant at his side and a very visible presence for most events. This may be a personal choice for all involved or – foot in mouth moment #2 – it may simply be a reflection of the fact that Cam and Ryan have kids so need their spouses in more of a childcare role while they run whereas Trent’s wife has more freedom to be involved in the campaign since her and Trent don’t have kids. (That isn’t a judgement in any way, just an observation. More on the range of family types we have – and should have – in a sec!)

In terms of Trent’s wife’s impact, it’s not quite Obama telling Hillary Clinton that he sometimes doesn’t know if he’s running against her or her husband, but it does perhaps mean that Trent has someone who is also very active and involved politically to assist with everything from making fundraising calls to glad-handing at events to sharing the driving responsibilities as they travel around the province in a way that Cam and Ryan’s wives can’t do and that Erin, without a spouse, also lacks.

And on an extremely practical level, I have utmost sympathy for Ryan and Cam who are trying to run a very intensive leadership race while also spending quality time with their young kids. Personally, I can’t imagine having to go to a debate or other event having had a sleepless night after staying up with a crying child. Or simply the amount of time that they’re required to be away from their families makes me wonder how anyone can doubt their commitment to the party (especially Ryan who faces this charge more often.)

Okay, that whole section felt like Foot in Mouth so let’s call it #3, 4, and 5.

The other role of family comes from the extended family. I’m aware of three candidates having traveled with their parents at different points with Ryan being the only exception (as far as I know). That may be a reflection of the fact that Ryan is (I think) the only candidate who doesn’t reside in the same city as his folks but that’s also paid dividends for Ryan in other ways as he has home bases (and really “homes”) in both Saskatoon and the southern half of the province. (His joke about inviting all the candidates to crash at his parent’s house during the snow-blown Moose Jaw debate was particularly enjoyable. Can you imagine that sleepover?)

There’s another way that extended family can assist – depending on the size of your family and how many places they live across the province (and how well you get along with them I guess!) ;-), members of the extended family can be intentional or even unintentional ambassadors for the candidate. For example (and speaking of family!), I know someone in Indian Head who put Trent as their second choice, simply because Trent has a strong family connection to the town. His aunt and uncle have lived in town for decades, his aunt was a long-time teacher in town and this particular person may have even had a blogger son who graduated high school with one of Trent’s cousins!

Even if we don’t want it to, family has had an impact since the start of the race. It began when the three married candidates appeared on stages with their spouses to announce their candidacy and, at least for some people, decisions on who to vote for will be based on who has the “perfect family” or “the photogenic family” or whatever. Once the race is over, this will also be a factor in how the new Leader is perceived by some although, fortunately, we’re not as obsessed with “First Ladies” and other family considerations as the US.

(I said I’d have more on varied family types earlier and I just want to say that, as I sit here rambling about families and relationships and whatnot, and as I appear to be extremely conventional in my own family – married with a wife who’s taken my name, house in the suburbs – although no white picket fence, one boy with a girl on the way (although not 1.5 years apart) but even given all of that, I suspect I’m with – and perhaps beyond – many in the NDP in recognizing and accepting varied family types – two dads, two moms, blended families, had kids before marriage, common-law, etc. etc. etc. Hell, I think that if you’re in a multi-way marriage, as long as everyone’s of age and agreeable, that’s cool too and you shouldn’t have to be a billionaire to justify it.)

Okay, how the hell did I go from talking about the Sask NDP Leadership race to Warren Buffet’s three-way marriage? Wow. Time to push publish before I say something even crazier!

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