Cam Broten is the winner of Saskatchewan's New Democratic Party leadership race after beating fellow candidate Ryan Meili by a thin margin of just 44 votes Saturday afternoon.
A gasp went up from the crowd as the results were announced at TCU Place in Saskatoon at 4 p.m. CST. Broten received 4,164 votes while Saskatoon physician Meili counted in at 4,120 ballots. Supporters on both sides were stunned by how close the results were.
Broten, a Saskatoon MLA, took the stage moments after the results were announced.
"I take on this role of leader with great enthusiasm, but also a deep sense of responsibility," Broten said to a crowd of nearly 800 people.
"I pledge to you today that I will do everything I can to sustain and nurture our party's tremendous heritage, to connect the generations within our party, to respect the good work that has been done and to revitalize our party so we can earn back the trust of Saskatchewan people and get on with the important work of achieving our vision of a better province for everyone."
Broten spoke directly to Meili, praising him for inspiring so many people to join the NDP and become active in the party's movement.
"I truly appreciate your vision of a healthy society and I share that vision with you," he said, adding that he hopes Meili will seek a seat in the next provincial election.
Meili spoke following Broten, saying he wanted to make Broten's win unanimous.
He told reporters later that it was too soon to tell if he would run in the next election.
Broten will speak to the party on Sunday in Saskatoon, during the final day of the NDP convention.
Premier Brad Wall congratulated Broten on his win on Twitter, also congratulating the rest of the candidates for their campaigns.
Broten won't have much time to prepare for his new role. He is expected back in the legislature on Monday and faces his first challenge when the Saskatchewan Party comes out with its new provincial budget in less than two weeks.
Meili led after first round results
Meili led the race after the first round of ballots was counted, at 1:30 p.m. CST.
Meili received 3,384 votes, while Broten was close behind with 2,942 votes, followed by MLA Trent Wotherspoon with 2,120 votes.
A fourth candidate, Erin Weir, dropped out of contention to support Meili two weeks ago, but his name was still left on the ballot. Supporters who mailed their ballots in early made up for the rest of the votes, with 273 going to Weir.
Shortly after the results were announced Wotherspoon pulled out of the race, although he did not throw his support behind either Meili or Broten.
"Many members have voted, the vast majority have, and I will leave it to the democratic will of the party … I trust our members to make the decision that they will," said Wotherspoon.
The last time NDP members gathered to choose a leader, in 2009, former deputy premier Dwain Lingenfelter got the nod.
However, in the 2011 general election, Lingenfelter lost in his own constituency and the NDP was reduced to nine seats, compared to the Saskatchewan Party's 49.
Regina MLA John Nilson had been serving as interim leader since then.