Ryan Meili is the new leader of the Saskatchewan NDP.
With an 81 per cent voter turnout for party members, Meili beat Trent Wotherspoon with 55 per cent of the vote for a total of 5,973 votes compared to Wotherspoon’s 4,860.
The results were announced to hundreds of party members at a convention Saturday in Regina.
Meili is a family physician and serves as the MLA for Saskatoon Meewasin, a seat he won in a byelection last year.
This was his third attempt at the NDP’s top job, having lost to Dwain Lingenfelter and Cam Broten in very tight races in 2009 and 2013.
When asked what made the difference this time around, Meili commented: “maybe the third time’s the charm.” He added holding a current seat in the legislature this time likely showed voters he has what it takes to be elected and serve in that capacity.
“I think there is a moment for our party where we need to make a shift, where we need to have a clearer vision of what we’re trying to achieve and really distinguish ourselves more from the Sask. Party and appeal to the what I believe is a growing appetite for change in the province by putting forward something to hope for,“ Meili said in an earlier sit-down interview before the election.
In an acceptance speech peppered with thank yous and laughter, Meili pointed to the strengths of his rival in Wotherspoon and joked that both of them were lucky interim leader Nicole Sauer wasn’t in the race.
He described the entire NDP caucus as a great team and said he is looking forward to working with all of them.
“I am so excited, as Nicole said, they’re strong and they’re smart and they work hard and they’re working hard for you – the people of this party and the people of this whole province – to be the best opposition they can and to start to put forward the best vision of what we can achieve together and I’m really excited for this next phase together, thank you to this team,” Meili said to a thunderous round of applause.
Meili also thanked his family for their support and patience along with his campaign team for their months of work. He said he owes his supporters an incredible debt of gratitude for “a sleep deficit, I imagine we will never repay.”
The new leader of the opposition also mentioned the windy weather conditions across the province on Saturday.
“To you New Democrats and to everyone, everyone in Saskatchewan, it’s blowing pretty hard today. I think those might be the winds of change,” Meili commented.
Meili believes the people are Saskatchewan are ready for change and describes the NDP as a party of leaders.
“We’re also a party of listeners. We’re going to be out there talking to everyone we can, hearing what’s really on peoples’ minds – the challenges, the problems with the current government – but more importantly, their dreams, their big ideas and where we’re going to work together to make those dreams a reality,” Meili said.
Meili supports carbon pricing, calls for ‘Sask. made plan’
Speaking to reporters after the speech, the new leader went into more specific policy details about his plan for the party.
When asked about the federal carbon tax – which the Sask. Party has refused to sign on to – Meili said he actually heard a lot of concerns about climate change from rural people and farmers dealing with changes to their growing season.
He criticized Premier Moe’s decision to simply refuse to sign on to the federal carbon tax.
“Right now we have a premier who is not only leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table, he’s also exposing us to a plan being designed by Justin Trudeau, where we want a plan that’s designed by those farmers, by the business leaders, by the community members throughout this province,” Meili said.
The new NDP leader also said he does believe carbon pricing is a model that works.
“If we talk to economists, if we talk to the experts in the field – to reduce emissions we have to have some method of carbon pricing,” Meili explained. “Exactly what that looks like, we have to have that discussion and make sure that it’s designed to protect producers, protect our trade-exposed industries and not make life less affordable for regular folks.”
Meili’s next battle will be against new Premier Scott Moe in the Saskatchewan general election in 2020.
-with files from 980 CJME’s Kevin Martel and Adriana Christianson