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History of NDP leadership races in Saskatchewan

NDP leadership races in Saskatchewan have run the range from tight contests that went multiple ballots, to one race that ended in acclamation.

REGINA — This Sunday, June 26, at the Delta Regina, Saskatchewan New Democrats will be announcing the winner of its leadership race.

The result is bound to be a historic one. The two candidates are Carla Beck and Kaitlyn Harvey and the winner is certain to be the first female leader in NDP history. If Harvey wins, she would also be the first Métis leader of a major party in Saskatchewan.

But there have been many notable leadership races in the history of the Saskatchewan NDP.


Four candidates were in the running to replace Woodrow Lloyd for the NDP leadership in 1970: George Taylor, Don Mitchell, Roy Romanow and Allan Blakeney. But the race turned out to be a surprisingly close one between the young Romanow and the political veteran Blakeney. Romanow led narrowly over the first two ballots, but in the third ballot Blakeney won, with 407 votes to 349.


Blakeney led the NDP back to power and would stay leader for 17 years, with Romanow prominent as the longtime deputy leader and attorney general. After gaining national prominence during the constitutional talks, Romanow ended up being the obvious choice to replace Blakeney when he stepped down, and he was acclaimed in 1987.


The 2001 NDP leadership race was in many ways the most competitive they ever had. The race had seven candidates vying to replace Romanow and become the new Premier of Saskatchewan, and it would go four ballots before a winner was declared. Joanne Crofford and Buckley Belanger dropped off after the first ballot, Scott Banda and Maynard Sonntag dropped off after the second ballot, and Nettie Wiebe was eliminated after the third. 

The race came down to Lorne Calvert and Chris Axworthy, but Calvert led throughout the balloting. On the fourth ballot he won, with 10,289 votes to Axworthy’s 7,575.


Four candidates were in the running for the NDP leadership in 2009 including Deb Higgins, Yens Pedersen and a newcomer to politics, Dr. Ryan Meili.

But once again the party turned to another former deputy premier, Dwain Lingenfelter, who returned to Saskatchewan from Alberta to run for the leadership. He led from the start, and won on the second ballot with 5,028 votes to 4,102 for Meili.


The 2013 NDP race turned out to be the closest in history. Four candidates, Erin Weir, Trent Wotherspoon, Ryan Meili and Cam Broten were in the running. Weir withdrew prior to the balloting and Wotherspoon withdrew after the first ballot. 

Broten had to overcome a 392 first ballot lead by Meili to take the leadership. But he did: the final ballot was Broten 4,164, and Meili 4,120.


Another unsuccessful provincial election for the NDP prompted another leadership race in 2018. The only two candidates had both run the last time: Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon, with Wotherspoon having by now served as an interim leader in the house. 

In the end, Meili prevailed after two runner-up finishes to win with 5,973 votes to 4,860 for Wotherspoon.