SASKATOON — Saskatchewan-NDP leader Ryan Meili says his only regret as party leader was failing to force the current government to do more to help the province get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There have been too many lives lost, so many patients unable to access surgeries and other essential care, at a time when so much of this suffering was predictable and preventable," said Meili as he announced he is stepping down as leader of the NDP. "These past two years have been hard on all of us, myself included, and have proven that we cannot take COVID lightly, and that predictions are precarious. However, I am hopeful that we are nearing the end of this pandemic, that the widespread availability of vaccines and therapeutics are allowing us to enter a new phase,” said Meili.
“And as someone who has been the voice of masks and mandates, of the things we all want to leave behind, I believe our province and our party need a new voice. I look forward to a healthy leadership race and to supporting the new leader of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party to become the next premier of Saskatchewan.”
Meili said that a new face and voice is needed to steer the opposition in a new direction as they prepare for the 2024 General Election.
Meili’s announcement comes two days after the NDP lost the Athabasca riding by-election where former RCMP officer Jim Lemaigre of the Saskatchewan Party bested opposition bet and former MP Georgina Jollibois.
Lemaigre won against the former five-term La Loche Mayor by less than three hundred votes to give the ruling SaskParty a 48th member at the Legislative Assembly. Lemaigre also ended the NDPs more than two decades hold of the seat.
Meili, speaking to members of the media Friday morning in his constituency office in Saskatoon, said the thought of resigning as party leader has been in his mind for some time and the by-election has not affected his final decision.
“Today I’m asking the [Sask-NDP] to hold a leadership race. When a new leader is selected, I will step aside to make room for that new voice. I am very grateful for the support, first and foremost of my family. Mahli, Abe and Gus have been beside me through the good times and the bad,” Meili said.
“I am thankful to the voters of Saskatoon Meewasin and NDP members for their support … The by-election was scheduled that needed to take place, but it’s that larger question of what kind of voice we need … It’s hard to put a finger on it. There just comes a moment that when [you decide].”
Meili added that he will stay on as party leader and will step aside as soon as a new provincial head is selected by the members.
“The members will decide. I’ll cast my vote and that’s about all the influence that I will considerable doing,” said Meili when asked if he is going to endorse anyone to replace him.
He said that recent polls show people are shifting their support to the NDP after being deceived by the SaskParty, which he added is slowly being split into two factions.
“We need a new voice and I believe that’s the Saskatchewan people are looking for. We have seen incredible growth and support for the New Democrats. Scott Moe and the SaskParty are tumbling in the eyes of Saskatchewan. The right-wing is fracturing as they fight among themselves,” said Meili.
“And I’m encouraged to see so many, as recent polls are showing, who are seeing through the deception of the Sask. Party and turning to support our party, who are seeking a better vision for Saskatchewan’s future.”
The 46-year-old physician was elected in 2017, beating closest rival Brent Penner of the SaskParty in a five-way race to represent Saskatoon-Meewasin.
“I got into politics for the same reason I got into medicine — to help people. I was elected as the MLA for Saskatoon Meewasin in 2017 and as leader of the NDP in 2018. I’m incredibly proud to be a Saskatchewan New Democrat and to serve alongside our team of dedicated MLAs.”
He added that he and the opposition stood up for what they believe is right during the time when the SaskParty has chosen to spread misinformation and support the voices of a certain group rather than the people of Saskatchewan.
“At a time when this Sask. Party government has chosen to spread misinformation and support the voices of illegal blockades over Saskatchewan people’s interests, this team — our team — has stood up for what’s right. We’ve spoken up, calling for support for overcrowded classrooms, action on mental health, supports for Saskatchewan workers, investments in economic diversification and renewable power, and creating and keeping good jobs in Saskatchewan. We have and will put people first,” said Meili.
“We have also spoken up, clearly and boldly, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We have stood up for public health, calling on this government to protect the health of Saskatchewan people. We have made the unpopular calls, demanding honesty and action from a government that is willing to put politics ahead of people’s lives. As a doctor, a political leader and a proud Saskatchewan resident, I have no regrets about being a voice for health in a period of a devastating illness.”