REGINA - Thursday marked the final day for outgoing NDP leader Ryan Meili as both leader and MLA at the Saskatchewan Legislature.
Meili confirmed Thursday morning that he is resigning his seat representing Saskatoon Meewasin.
The news, which was widely expected, coincided with the final day of the current session of the Legislature, allowing Meili the opportunity to say goodbye.
Attending in the Legislature Thursday were his family, friends and political colleagues and staff from his time as an MLA and party leader.
Regina Lakeview MLA Carla Beck, who along with Kaitlyn Harvey (attending in the gallery) is running to replace Meili as leader, moved a motion of thanks to Meili for his service and dedication to Saskatoon Meewasin and all the people of Saskatchewan.
In speaking to reporters afterwards, Meili said it was “time for me to move on and do other things.”
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have been leader of the NDP, Leader of the Opposition, to be a doctor leading in the middle of the pandemic. It’s been the challenge and opportunity and honour of a lifetime.”
Meili had been elected to the legislature in 2017 and won the NDP leadership a year later, in what was his third run for the top job after two runner-up finishes.
He ended up being the face of opposition to the government’s policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for tough policies to deal with the pandemic. In speaking to the media Meili pointed to the public role he played as one he is most proud of.
“I think it’s quite clear that during those early months of the pandemic, we really needed a voice that had health as its primary focus. We needed someone to be speaking up at a time when the government really didn’t want to talk about it … we needed someone who was willing to say, no, there’s a serious problem and we need to make a change. It was tough to do, but I was really glad to be able to be that voice.”
He acknowledged to reporters it wasn’t ideal as a leader trying to win support for the party.
“Especially during the pandemic, there were really hard messages that I had to bring. And some of those messages had to be criticisms. But it’s not ideal for your leader to be the one who is always on the attack.
His suggestion to the new leader was to “present that positive vision of what we hope to achieve.”
Meili had initially opted to stay on as Opposition leader following the NDP’s 2020 election loss, one that saw only 13 New Democrats returned to the Legislature including a razor-thin win for Meili himself. In doing so, Meili escaped the fate of both of his predecessors Cam Broten and Dwain Lingenfelter, who resigned after losing their seats.
The decision to finally leave was “the sort of thing that builds over time,” he told reporters. The turning point for his decision to leave politics, he admitted to reporters, was the loss of the Athabasca byelection to the Saskatchewan Party which had been a longtime safe NDP seat.
“I’d been really thinking hard for a couple of months and the Athabasca byelection was the chance to make the change.”
The other factor was that they were into a new phase of the pandemic.
“I think it was so important to be playing that role as a physician, as a leader, during the pandemic. Now as people are ready to move on and ready for a different phase of life, they’re really looking for a new voice and a new face."
He called in an opportunity to see in the New Democrats “something new and exciting and hopeful.”
Meili’s last official day as MLA is July 1, and he remains NDP leader until the June 26 leadership vote. The byelection for Saskatoon Meewasin has not yet been called.
For his immediate future, Meili said he planned to take time off, take a couple of trips and think through next steps.
As for what holds for his career Meili said “it will be medicine and some degree of advocacy for health, because I don’t really know how to do anything else.”
Meili also expects to see patients again — “something I have missed,” he said.