Meili wins NDP leadership race

NDP leadership candidate Ryan Meili speaks to supporters in Prince Albert on Nov. 19. (Peter Lozinski/Daily herald)

Ryan Meili is the new leader of the Saskatchewan NDP.

The medical doctor and Saskatoon-based MLA finished about 1,000 votes ahead of Trent Wotherspoon, a former teacher and long-serving NDP MLA. It was Meili’s third attempt at becoming party leader. In 2013, he lost by just 44 votes on the second ballot.

Heading into Saturday’s convention, Meili boasted more fundraising dollars, despite pledging not to accept any union or corporate donations, while Wotherspoon had the support of the majority of NDP caucus. Both candidates had similar platforms, and for many, it came down to what style of leader they wanted.

Prior to the announcement of Meili as leadership race winner, interim leader Nicole Sarauer took the stage to reflect on her time leading the party and to call for unity moving forward.

“I’m honoured to be a part of a smart, tough, strong team,’ she said.

“Thank you for all of your support, and for all you do fighting for a stronger, more equal and fair Saskatchewan. We know we all do better when we all do better. We also know that the Sask. Party doesn’t understand that at all.”

She criticized the Saskatchewan Party for its last budget, and saw the party’s by-election wins and even gains in by-election losses as a sign the NDP is growing in strength province-wide.

Even though the party lost all three seats in the recent by-elections, Sarauer said the party gained percentages of the vote in each race, despite the ridings being Saskatchewan Party strongholds.

“This is a sign we are building momentum and we can’t give up,” she said.

“Our fundraising is increasing and our members are increasing, but the importance of the work we are doing is increasing as well. Not every step on our journey is a big one, and we have and will stumble along the way, but we have to keep moving forward.”

The outgoing interim leader stressed how important it will be for the party to pull together now that the leadership race is over, and how important caucus support was during her time leading the NDP.

“(The new leader) will not be able to do it alone,” she said. “They will need every one of us … pushing in the same direction. Let’s take that first step, and let’s get back to work.”

Sarauer was highly praised during her time as interim leader, with some saying she was a stronger leader than either Meili or Wotherspoon. Several high-profile members of the Saskatchewan Party thanked her for her service as party leader, including former Premier Brad Wall, cabinet ministers Tina Beuadry-Mellor and Don Morgan and current premier Scott Moe.

Wall also sent out a tweet congratulating Meili on his victory and Wotherspoon on his campaign, as did current premier Scott Moe.

Once Sarauer finished her speech, she announced Meili as winner and was joined by the rest of the NDP caucus on stage.

Wotherspoon stepped to the microphone first, making a motion that Meili be declared the unanimous winner of the leadership race, and welcoming him up on stage

Meili praised Sarauer and Wotherspoon.

“We’ve made a choice and were ready to move forward,” he said, adding that people told him no matter who won the race, the party couldn’t lose.

‘I couldn’t agree more,” Meili said. “I’ve grown to like (Trent) a great deal. He’s an incredibly dedicated, smart, genuine great dude, and I can’t wait to continue to work alongside him. I know he’s going to contribute so much to this next phase.”

He then turned his attention to the rest of caucus.

“This is such a great team,” he said.

‘they are strong, smart and they work hard. They’re working hard … to start to put forward the vision of what we can achieve together. The people of Saskatchewan are ready for change. The New Democrats are ready to lead. We’re going to work together to make (people’s) drams a reality.“