PREPARING FOR BATTLE
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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