Ryan Meili wants to be a different kind of politician.
That was the message the NDP MLA and party leadership hopeful was emphasizing during his stop in Prince Albert this weekend.
Meili dropped by the city on the tail end of a trip that saw him head as far north as La Loche and Ile A La Crosse.
Saturday, he dropped by the Daily Herald office for a one-on-one interview, and Sunday he held a meet and greet for potential supporters.
Meili is running for party leadership for the third time. He previously ran in 2009 and in 2013, finishing second each time. In 2013, he lost by a mere 44 votes.
This time, it’s only a two horse race. Meili is going up against fellow MLA and fellow 2013 candidate Trent Wotherspoon.
While Meili said it’s hard to draw comparisons between Wotherpoon and himself, he did point to his experience as a doctor as having a major impact on his campaign.
“I’m coming in with a different policy background and a bit of a different focus than, not just Trent, but really than what we’ve seen in politics in Saskatchewan or other places, with the idea that health is the primary focus,” he said.
During his speech, Meili delved deeper into his health-first approach. He spoke about his time working for the not-for-profit organization Upstream, and the social determinants of health.
“It isn’t the hospital or medicine, or the types of things we think about when we think about health care that makes the difference,” he said.
“When you look at a list of what makes the biggest difference in our health, at about 10th or 11th you’ll find health care. Way above that, you’ll find income, education, employment, early childhood, social supports, the wider environment, housing and food security. Its not whether you have access to a pharmacy, it’s whether you have a decent place to stay, whether you have enough money to have a good life.”
According to Meili, that became a major source of frustration in his medical practice. He got into medicine to make people healthy. As a student, he thought he’d be making friends everyday, helping them live a healthier life.
In practice, that was a bit simplistic.
“I sent those friends back into the situation that made them sick in the first place,” he said.
“What really makes a difference in whether people are healthy not is designed and determined at the political level, and if I really wanted to make a difference I would go there.
“Government is not simply just about growing the economy. It’s not simply there to pave our roads. It’s for our wellbeing. It’s the collective effort we put in to design he society that will serve us the best.”
Meili’s other motivation is he has been seeing the same old, same old. Not just in the Saskatchewan Party, but within the NDP. He thinks people are ready for a change, and that he’s the only candidate who can deliver that change.
As he went around the province, Meili said, he heard some consistent things.
“People were ticked off,” he said. The shine was off Mr. Wall’s apple. The benefit of the doubt wasn’t there, even in rural Saskatchewan.”
In Meili’s mind, to make a difference and take advantage of that need for change, the party also has to go in a different direction.
“The other thing I heard really clearly was it wasn’t enough for us to just say the Saskatchewan Party stinks. They want to know what’s our vision, what’s our plan,” he said.
“I think that’s really important for us to hear, because for the last couple of elections, our whole approach has been, let’s knock hem down as much as we can, they need and alternative, and the NDP happen to be lying around. I don’t think that’s what’s actually going to happen. Change is coming, no matter what. For us to be the change they choose, it’s not enough to knock the Sask. Party. We have to put forward real ideas that will make a difference.”
To that end, Meili has put out his platform. He has seven guiding principles, and, on his website details what he will do under each of those topics, and how he plans to pay for his vision.
But while Meili is focusing on communicating his plan, and on how health-based politics will, in his mind, improve the province, he also has two things going for him he didn’t have last time.
One of those factors is, this time, Meili is a sitting MLA.
“That’s something a lot of people said to me … ‘you need some time in the legislature.’ I’m there now and that objection has gone away,” Meili said.
“It is helpful to have that knowledge. The Legislature is a fascinating place. The reality is what happens outside the Legislature is more important., listening to people, putting forward the kind of ideas that communicate a wider vision. The Legislature is the theatre of where it happens, but the real work happens outside of that.”
The other thing Meili stresses is that he is dedicated to running a campaign without taking any union or corporate donations.
“One of the things that’s important is the level of trust in our political system and political leaders. Things like the GTH, and all of Bill Boyd’s dalliances have rally eroded the trust and belief that the Sask. Party is working for them. That tars everybody, not just them. It tars every politician,” he said.
That’s why, according to Meili, he made the pledge not to take corporate or union donations. So far, he’s the only candidate in either race to take that step. He has also pledged, if chosen as premier in the next general election to pass legislation banning corporate or union campaign donations.
“It’s just to show that it’s possible not to be tied to big money and be able to work on behalf of the people.”
The NDP will choose its new leader on March 3, 2018.