Meili stepping down and Athabasca election present interesting time in Sask Politics

The last week and a half in Saskatchewan has presented changes that have altered the political landscape in the province.

Last week Ryan Meili stepped down as the leader of the Provincial NDP Party, and Jim Lemaigre and the Saskatchewan Party won a longtime NDP stronghold in the Athabasca riding was.

Tom McIntosh, a professor of political and international studies with the University of Regina, said he wasn’t surprised Meili stepped down just when it happened.

“The loss in Athabasca was certainly a blow to the party. Losing a seat that you’ve held for 25 years is going to cause people to have some questions about what went wrong,” he said. “You take that, you add in 72 per cent support in the leadership review, and the last election result that didn’t move the needle in terms of adding seats to the size of the caucus, those things added together,” he said.

“I think that made Meili begin to think that his position as leader was untenable at that point and that going forward wasn’t going to change the future of the pantry in any significant way. Best to get out now while the party as a time to regroup and maybe reorganize, reconfigure, and rethink itself under somebody else’s leadership,” he added.

McIntosh said that a change in Saskatchewan’s opinions on vaccine and masking mandates also presented a challenge for Meili.

“I think it may have had an impact on choosing to go now as opposed to going a month from now or three or four months from now,” he said. “The winds had shifted in some significant way, and I think Meili said it himself the message that he had been associated with at the height of the pandemic around was following the science and in favour the vaccine passports and the mandate and the mask mandates.”

As for the future of the NDP Party, McIntosh said it is going to be an uphill battle.

“It’s been out of power now for well over a decade, and it’s hard to think of the current causes as the Government in waiting,” he said. “I think this is a moment where the party really has to sort of thinking deeply about what it wants to be in the future, and what it wants to offer people in the future, and where they are going to rebuild a political base that is more than a dozen seats in the two largest cities.”

As for the Athabasca Riding, McIntosh said he was surprised to see a change in seats and that several factors played into the change.

“I think part of it is a lot of people stayed home. The vote went down, I think ten percentage points from the provincial election in that riding in terms of turnout,” he stated. “A lot of people stayed home, maybe that was overconfident New Democratic Voters who thought it was a shoo-in, maybe it was just people who were completely unmotivated to vote for either party. There may well have been a sense in the riding that, maybe having a voice from the north, inside the Government rather than outside the Government would get us some attention that we haven’t been getting with the voice outside the Government.”

“What will the Government do if we give them an MLA in their caucus. Continuing to elect an opposition MLA isn’t changing many of the situations in the north; it’s not giving attention to northern issues; maybe if there is somebody inside the caucus and maybe eventually cabinet from the north, maybe that will change our political fortunes,” he added.

He said while the pandemic possibly affected the NDP in getting a new leader, but it has also impacted the Sask. Party.

“The pandemic has certainly cut into the Sask. Party’s popularity and the popularity of the Premier himself,” he stated. “For all of that, if there was an election tomorrow, not much would change. The Sask. Party would still walk in with a very large majority government. It is interesting because, on the one hand, it feels like things have been shaken up with the Sask. Party sort of getting knocked down a bit, and then Meili’s resignation, but at the same time for all of that, not much would change if we had an election.”

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