For Ryan Meili, the Third Time's a Charm


Robert Thomas - Opinion

After two unsuccessful attempts, a former Moose Jaw high school student , Dr Ryan Meili, finds himself NDP and Opposition leader.

With 5973 votes to 4860 votes, or a margin of 1113 votes, Meili was able to give his long awaited victory speech to what was described by media at the event as a "larger than expected turnout by the NDP."

Meili's election can be said to signal the election of not only a hard swing to the left for the Party but also, at last, a changing of the guard. Whether the Party wants to admit it or not, Meili’s election is a signal that the NDP’s old guard has just been turned over to the next generation.

But what does this mean for Saskatchewan politics?

Well, right now not too much. The NDP isn't going to have anymore resources or MLAs to help them out in the Legislature. But there could very well be a shift in the aggressiveness and focus on how the NDP questions the SaskParty government. 

The big thing people need to understand is that when Parties choose new leaders, they hope to pick the person with the most electability and the majority of the NDP members chose Meili.

Now within the NDP itself, there has been resistance against Meili right from the start, with rumours the NDP back room people supported former NDP MP John Parry in the Saskatoon – Meewasin constituency nomination. Parry had previously run federally in the Saskatchewan Wanaskewin riding.

Whether true or not, it's hard to say, but when a few NDP partisans speculated over it, at coffee, at the time the rumour was fresh, you know there might be some ring to it, no matter how hollow.

With that said, though people are going to wonder how Meili will do within the ranks of the NDP? Can he heal divisions and lead a united Party in the Legislature and into the next election? 

One needs to understand that after his last loss in seeking the leadership, Meili didn't stay silent and actually attacked some of the NDP’s policy changes publicly and to the media, right on the eve of the election campaign. A total nightmare for an NDP campaign, which went off the rails from the get go. A promising campaign that in the end reverted into a near disaster.

In a roundabout irony, Meili is at least partially responsible for the collapse and a caucus less than predicted on the eve of the general election, which he now commands. A larger caucus would have helped him immeasurably.

But with him speaking out, it does demonstrate character and sincerity, so it's a double-edged sword. A potential selling point for any campaign team.

Some have pointed out that Meili’s background as a child from a poor family who made it to be a medical doctor and went on to help his fellow poor, is a highly marketable story.

The problem with this is that it just isn't true. 

Dr Meili came from a farm where his family was by no means poor. In fact, his dad is known as a big federal Conservative supporter, locally. With that said, Meili did go on to be a medical doctor and now – prior to being an MLA – worked at a community clinic in a very economically disadvantaged neighbourhood in Saskatoon. He empathizes with the poor but he, himself, is from a middle class background.

Does this make Meili less saleable? It's highly unlikely; and it might actually help him.

But here is one of the biggest problems with Meili: many of his policies and goals are definitely for people who feel downtrodden and neglected by society. They might resonate well but the biggest problem any politician who has been there will tell you, is that it is almost next to impossible to get most of the poor to vote. Many see their voice as not being heard and they feel so neglected that even bothering to vote is a total waste of time.

The question needs to be asked: could Meili do something many other politicians have failed to do before? 

With Trent Wotherspoon heavily endorsed by the union movement and Meili openly rejecting their donations, has he created a wedge or a signal that he is not going to place as much emphasis on their concerns? Although highly unlikely, losing critical union membership support would prove very harmful, especially in Regina, with it's large unionized civil service.

But given austerity and the threat to their jobs, it may well be enough to get union members out and voting for someone their union leadership didn't see as the preferred choice.

Although they won't say it publicly, the selection of the left-leaning Meili has to be a body blow to the Green Party. Some of their policies may well be picked up by Meili, which might be great on those objectives but what about the Green’s hopes of one day getting MLAs elected? Will it mean a great electoral retreat for the Greens, even to the extent of obliteration? 

Although they aren't going to say it publicly, Meili's leading the NDP was the SaskParty’s preferred outcome. Local SaskParty supporters have told me it's the best case scenario.

With his left leaning views, the SaskParty now has a potential target, one they can depict as a radical and a kook, in order to win back the centre and gather a large number of middle class voters. 

Watch for the radical card to be played quickly by the SaskParty. If the strategy is going to be successful, they need to paint Meili as a radical as often as they can in the minds of voters.

Remember the "Stop The Cuts" group and their participation in the Premier’s Dinners in Saskatoon and Regina and how they backfired. If the more radical elements in Meili’s supporters continue with such theatrics it might well turn off many potential voters. 

Remember the strategy of organized protestors is to antagonize and force those they oppose into a saleable media product. The strategy was just leaked in documents to the National Post regarding preventing pipelines in British Columbia. Provoking, with no retaliation, is a media relations nightmare waiting in the wings.

But the big question in all of this is: Is Meili saleable? Does he resonate with the general public or will the SaskParty have an edge as they go after their fourth electoral win, only this time without their greatest asset, Brad Wall, leading the charge?

After Brad Wall, there is a vacuum in the recognizable voice category representing this Province and whichever leader can become that, from whatever Party – not just the SaskParty and the NDP – could very well be the next Premier. 

It could well lead to some exciting times.

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