If his career in politics doesn’t pan out, Ryan Meili can always apply for the role of Saskatchewanderer. He’s gained invaluable traveling experience as part of a summer tour through Saskatchewan. He’s logged more kilometers across the province this year than most people will travel in double that time.
“I feel like a tourist in my own province,” he said. “It’s a big [place].”
The Saskatchewan NDP leader has been bouncing around the province ever since the legislative session wrapped up in May. He’s been shaking hands, greeting supporters, and chatting with political officials and everyday people for months. Meili’s trying to make the most of his time away from the legislature before the new session begins in the fall.
“I’m really enjoying the chance to get out to all the communities,” he said. “[You] get such a deeper sense of the kind of province we are.”
Meili’s summer tour landed in Melville and Yorkton on Aug. 8. Meili spoke with Mayor Bob Maloney and city council before hosting a meet-and-greet barbecue at the city centre park at 5 p.m.
Meili weaved through the crowd at the park, introducing himself to Yorktonites and listening to their questions and concerns about the province’s future. He’s spoken with dozens of people in communities around the province and he’s noticed several recurring themes.
“There are lots of pretty consistent concerns that we’re hearing in different communities,” he said.
A major concern, and one that’s greatly impacted Yorkton, is the reductions to the grants-in-lieu program. The Sask Party chopped the program down in its budget last year. Meili said he wants to find a solution to the program’s reduction while not fully committing to completely revitalizing grants-in-lieu.
“I want to have that discussion [on grants-in-lieu],” he said. “The right system that makes sure communities have the funding they need that’s reflective of the services they provide...needs to be put in place.”
Meili said he’s also heard complaints about changes to the PST and how it impacts construction contracts. Such contracts are no longer exempt from the PST.
“We’ve seen [the construction] industry struggling because of an economic slowdown and a PST just adds more of a burden to that industry,” Meili said. “It’s been a really big hit across the province.”
Meili thinks towns like Yorkton can secure stable revenues if they receive consistent government financing.
“What we need to...deliver to towns like Yorkton is a reliable source of funding so they know year to year [what to plan for],” he said.
Meili, who became NDP leader in March, spent a large part of the last session criticizing the Sask Party’s stubborn resilience to the federal carbon tax. While the government’s gained support from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Meili still thinks the Sask Party’s refusal to negotiate is the wrong approach.
“[The Sask Party doesn’t] have a backup plan [for the carbon tax] if they’re not successful,” he said. “That’s the issue that concerns me.”
While the NDP can point out flaws with the Sask Party until they’re orange in the face, Meili knows criticisms alone won’t snag his party enough votes to win elections down the road. The party needs an appealing platform to attract Saskatchewan voters.
“People...are ready for a change,” he said. “That’s the job for me...to really develop a vision that people in Saskatchewan can say, ‘Yup, that’s actually what I’m looking for.’”
To that end, Meili believes his tour is crucial to developing a winning vision. By visiting communities across the province, he hopes to craft a platform based on real, face-to-face conversations with Saskatchewanians.
“Saskatchewan’s a great big place and everybody has their own specific needs that need to be met,” he said. “I have to be out here to see what’s on people’s minds.
“It’s important to me.”