Ryan Meili, a family physician and now Saskatoon MLA, believes he has the cure for what ails the opposition since its defeat to the Saskatchewan Party over a decade ago.
“I think there is a moment for our party where we need to make a shift, where we need to have a clearer vision of what we’re trying to achieve and really distinguish ourselves more from the Sask. Party and appeal to the what I believe is a growing appetite for change in the province by putting forward something to hope for, “Meili said in a sit-down interview.
Seen to be an outsider, Meili surprised party establishment back in 2009 by not only taking veteran politician Dwain Lingenfelter to a final ballot in that leadership contest, but scored 45 per cent of the vote.
He lost again in 2013 to Cam Broten by just 46 votes.
While Lingenfelter and Broten ended their political careers in defeat in subsequent elections, Meili ran for the Saskatoon Meewasin seat in 2017 and was successful.
And it’s that victory that finally earned him a seat around the NDP caucus table which Meili believes will make the difference between success and failure this time around.
“There’s really an appetite within the party as well for a change,” Meili said. “When I talk to the members, people are saying yes we need to present ourselves more clearly, put forth a bolder vision and be willing to articulate maybe in greater detail, with a bit more courage, some of what we think is possible to achieve.”
Despite what many might assume is an urban connection, Meili actually grew up on the family farm southwest of Moose Jaw, and he worked in northern Saskatchewan and has what he calls “deep roots.”
“I care deeply about what happens in this province, my commitment to people is that I am here to work for the best of all of us,” he maintained.
Asked about what strengths and weaknesses would help shape the sort of leader he would be, Meili cited perseverance.
“Despite not getting the results I wanted the first or second time I’m still trying, and I also came forward and ran as an MLA, so I think that sort of persistence and perseverance is of value and a strength,” Meili explained. “Sometimes I can be a bit strong-willed and stubborn.”
What Meili is campaigning on is a new approach to how Saskatchewan’s government works for what he argues would be for the betterment of everyone.
“We need a very clear identification of what the goal is and then an understanding to reach that goal what the approach needs to be, where we need to invest, how we need to do our political and policy decision making,” Meili contended. “A new approach that says health is the most important thing, those social factors, those upstream factors that influence health are how you achieve that, that guides decisions made in every ministry, health itself, but also justice, environment, education, finance, a whole of government approach to improving the lives of the people of Saskatchewan.”
Given the schedule of the campaign, Meili has racked up about 50,000 kilometres on his vehicle. He welcomes any time he can to spend with his family. His wife Mahli Brindamour, who he cites as his biggest inspiration, is perhaps even busier in her role as a pediatrician.
“She is an incredibly compassionate, smart, dedicated person,” Meili said. “She is probably a bit biased because she is supportive and likes me, but she is a pretty good critic and will point out the things I didn’t do quite right and in a positive way.”
One unexpected thing about Meili is his love of singing loudly in the car. Stopped at a red light, you may see him belting out Colter Wall, one of the artists he cites on his playlist.
“Yeah I listen to all kinds of different music, some indie rock or even hip-hop, but also some country usually older stuff but I actually do love Colter Wall, he has a great voice,” Meili laughed.
Meili is grateful for the journey this campaign, in particular, has taken him on, the conversations with Saskatchewan people he has engaged in.
One that surprised him was how many people who are farming talked to Meili about climate change.
“It’s a major issue for them, it’s something that is happening, they are seeing changes in their growing season, changes in moisture and they are really concerned,” Meili explained. “And I think that is a learning for us all to recognize that those are the people that are going to see it first and that they need to be part of the conversation about the solutions as well.”
It is no surprise Tommy Douglas comes up in conversation with a person hoping to follow in his footsteps.
“You asked the question, if I could sit down with him for dinner, I would love that and I would ask him ‘If it was you today, what would be the things you would be wanting to grab on to and how would you talk to people about it to get them inspired?’” Meili said.
Whether or not this leadership bid will be third time’s the charm for Meili will be known on Saturday. But he and his supporters are hoping that with regard to this race, history might repeat itself in a different way.
“When I tried to become a doctor it took me three times applying to medical school and that ultimately turned out quite well and I am hoping this will as well.”