PRE­PAR­ING FOR BAT­TLE

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It’s al­ways very well to point out the flaws and failures of the Sask. Party, but if we don’t have so­lu­tions and strengths we’re point­ing to, it’s not very in­ter­est­ing for peo­ple.NDP Leader Ryan Meili took his ti­tle in March and ad­mits putting his stamp on the party is still a “work in progress.”“Change and change man­age­ment doesn’t hap­pen overnight, and the change of a leader has a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect, but it’s a party with a cul­ture, a his­tory and with thou­sands of mem­bers, all of whom have a role in shap­ing it,” he says.“My job is a spokesper­son. My job is to de­velop some of the way we talk about things, work with those folks to de­velop the best poli­cies. That doesn’t hap­pen within a sin­gle ses­sion or even a year. It’s go­ing to be a slow change,” he adds.In 2019, ex­pect that change to take sub­stan­tial steps as Meili and the NDP look to fur­ther de­velop a plat­form and se­lect can­di­dates ahead of the 2020 elec­tion.“Re­ally what I like about this next year is the pivot away from the com­plaint, to­wards the con­struc­tive sug­ges­tions and the de­vel­op­ment of a plan,” Meili says dur­ing a year-end in­ter­view with the Regina Leader-post.Some of that ef­fort has al­ready be­gun.In his roughly nine months on the job, Meili was tasked with lead­ing a cau­cus that mostly sup­ported his lone lead­er­ship race op­po­nent, Regina-rose­mont MLA Trent Wother­spoon.“You want to make sure the party is united, the cau­cus is united. I am very proud of the way the team came to­gether. It’s al­ways a risk af­ter those races, that can get pretty heated, that peo­ple won’t be able to sit on the same side,” he says.“I give a lot of credit to Trent, for his ef­fort in this. Peo­ple re­ally came to­gether in that first ses­sion, and the sec­ond ses­sion per­formed so well, so I was re­ally pleased with the way peo­ple took on their critic roles, took on the is­sues, and spoke with one voice for the peo­ple of the province,” he says, adding the Op­po­si­tion ranks were “very much on the same page” over the lat­ter half of 2018.There is tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence he’s been suc­cess­ful in gain­ing the sup­port of his cau­cus: de­spite each of the Regina MLAS elected dur­ing the lead­er­ship race sup­port­ing Wother­spoon, they have all com­mit­ted to run­ning again in 2020.The same can’t be said for Saska­toon MLAS Cathy Sproule and David Forbes, who have al­ready stated they won’t be seek­ing a nom­i­na­tion in 2020. It’s still un­clear what the fu­ture holds for Athabasca MLA Buck­ley Be­langer and Cum­ber­land MLA Doyle Ver­mette.Each of those mem­bers are long­time MLAS who add depth and ex­pe­ri­ence to the small NDP cau­cus. Meili ad­mits los­ing Sproule and Forbes “is a loss,” but he doesn’t think the party will, “lose all of that in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory.”“We have some more se­ri­ous vet­er­ans like Wother­spoon and (Regina-el­phin­stone MLA War­ren Mccall) who have been around for a long time.”Meili also says he ex­pects “a lot more con­tested nom­i­na­tions” in the lead-up to the next gen­eral elec­tion.“The Sask. Party is weaker than where they’ve been in a decade. We’re stronger than where we’ve been in a decade. Peo­ple see an op­por­tu­nity,” he said. “Peo­ple see a lot more hope for each of th­ese seats. At the same time, there’s also more drive. Peo­ple are an­gry about the things that have gone wrong, and I think they’re see­ing from the NDP some pretty ex­cit­ing ideas that I think they feel com­fort­able ad­vo­cat­ing for on the doorstep.”A shift from op­po­si­tion party to govern­ment in wait­ing has been on hold within the NDP ranks for years, as it strug­gled to find sta­ble — and suc­cess­ful — lead­er­ship; but Meili is mov­ing for­ward on new ideas, bet­ting the time has fi­nally ar­rived.“It’s al­ways very well to point out the flaws and failures of the Sask. Party, but if we don’t have so­lu­tions and strengths we’re point­ing to, it’s not very in­ter­est­ing for peo­ple. Why would they want change if they don’t know what they’re go­ing to get?”Al­ready the party has pushed to in­tro­duce a phar­ma­care plan and a $15 min­i­mum wage — ideas put for­ward by NDP gov­ern­ments else­where, prompt­ing Meili to say it would be “fool­ish to ig­nore” ideas that were work­ing in other ju­ris­dic­tions.“Orig­i­nal­ity for the sake of orig­i­nal­ity is bor­ing, be­cause it’s not ac­tu­ally of value,” he says.That think­ing is an ex­ten­sion of an­other point reg­u­larly put for­ward by Meili in 2018: “Part of my phi­los­o­phy is, I don’t care what party makes a good de­ci­sion, a good de­ci­sion is a good de­ci­sion and should be sup­ported. When there is a good cri­tique, we’re not shy about get­ting into that cri­tique.”But he does pro­mote his Re­new Saskatchewan plan as “ex­cit­ing ideas.”In­tro­duced in Oc­to­ber, it is a pol­icy pro­posal Saskatchewan peo­ple should get used to hear­ing about from Meili and the NDP, which he calls “strik­ingly new.”“That’s a po­ten­tially trans­for­ma­tive pol­icy that would cre­ate lots of jobs, re­duce peo­ple’s power bills at the same time as shift­ing us to­wards lead­er­ship in clean en­ergy, in­stead of where we have been, which is far be­hind other places,” he says.The pro­gram aims to al­low peo­ple to re­quest as­sess­ments of their pri­vate prop­erty or busi­ness to de­ter­mine the most cost-ef­fec­tive way to be­come more en­ergy ef­fi­cient.Re­new Saskatchewan would then loan out the funds for the retro­fit — which could in­clude items such as so­lar pan­els or im­proved weather in­su­la­tion — that would be paid back over time through power bills.It’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously the most bold plan seen from the NDP in ar­guably a decade (in part be­cause the party has long been ac­cused of lack­ing orig­i­nal­ity), and core to the party’s strat­egy of stak­ing out a claim to ru­ral Saskatchewan — some­thing it has failed to do in con­sec­u­tive elec­tions.Meili ad­mits the NDP “haven’t been present in ru­ral Saskatchewan as much as we should be,” and much like his failed pre­de­ces­sors, vowed to change that. He thinks that can be done in part by in­tro­duc­ing poli­cies such as Re­new Saskatchewan, which he says was de­vel­oped in con­sul­ta­tion with ru­ral res­i­dents.Ul­ti­mately his suc­cess as NDP leader, and how his stamp on the party is judged, will be de­ter­mined by how he fares in the 2020 elec­tion.

NDP leader Ryan Meili says next year will be a time for build­ing a plat­form and se­lect­ing can­di­dates ahead of the 2020 elec­tion. He aims to build the party into a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to the Sask. Party.

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