Potential Sask. NDP leadership candidates yet to decide on run to replace Ryan Meili

Ryan Meili's decision to step down as Saskatchewan NDP leader will trigger a leadership contest. Now, the major question is, who will be in that race?

MLAs Nippi-Albright, Young and Beck have not ruled out becoming candidates

Exterior of the Saskatchewan legislative building at night with snow on the ground and lit street lamps in winter.
The Saskatchewan NDP will begin the process of finding a new leader, but no one has officially entered the race to replace Ryan Meili. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

Ryan Meili's decision to step down as Saskatchewan NDP leader will trigger a leadership contest. Now, the major question is, who will be in that race?

It will be the fourth leadership race in the last 13 years and the first not to include Meili.

Meili has 11 caucus colleagues, and Betty Nippi-Albright was the first to hint at having an interest in running.

Before Meili had even formally announced his decision on Friday morning, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations tweeted its support for a Nippi-Albright candidacy.

"Here is the opportunity for Saskatchewan to finally have a bold, charismatic, and strong Treaty First Nations Indigenous voice leading in provincial politics. Someone who will do the right things for our next generation. That leader is Betty Nippi-Albright," the FSIN wrote.

The FSIN represents 74 First Nations in the province.

On Sunday, Nippi-Albright, the MLA for Saskatoon Centre, wrote a thread on Twitter discussing her thoughts on a potential leadership run, calling the support she had received "humbling."

"I am curious, is Saskatchewan ready for a strong and vocal First Nations woman to lead? I know because racism is so firmly engrained and because I do not come from a privileged background — it would be extremely difficult to run for leader. And ultimately, for Premier," Nippi-Albright wrote.

She said she would be making a decision in consultation with family and supporters over the next few weeks.

Other NDP MLAs have also not yet formally announced an intention to run.

On a potential run for party leader, Regina University MLA Aleana Young told CBC News she is "thinking it over." 

"It's been a contemplative weekend, with a lot to consider and be thankful for. At this critical time in Saskatchewan, who wouldn't want an opportunity to stick it to this government? But as they say, in politics timing is everything. I'm talking with my family, listening to folks in the community, and thinking it over."

On Monday, Regina Lakeview MLA Carla Beck seemed to have a degree of support for a run as a "Draft Carla Beck for Leader" page was launched on Facebook.

Beck responded to questions about her interest in party leadership in a statement to CBC News.

"I do want to say how much I appreciate the calls of support I've been getting. I've been having some very good conversations. In our party and in government, we need more listening, more ideas, more people feeling like they're part of building the future of our province together," Beck wrote.

"The Sask. Party is tired and out of ideas for building unity. We have a lot of work to do to bring people across the province together. I am committed to continuing my work, bringing people in and building people up. And I look forward to being part of a refreshed Saskatchewan NDP team — in whatever that role may be — and showing voters the Sask. NDP is ready to govern again."

MLA Nicole Sarauer (Regina Douglas Park), who was interim leader in from June 2017 to March 2018, has not commented on her level of interest in the leadership.

Party needs to grow, professor says

Tom McIntosh, a professor of politics and international studies at the University of Regina, says the NDP needs a person who can unite and help grow the party.

"It's tricky because you need somebody who can hold on to that urban base that you have and build on that," he said. "You have to find somebody who can reach out to and communicate effectively with the smaller urban centres and get some kind of message into rural Saskatchewan. The rural-urban divide in the province seems to be growing starker."

McIntosh says Meili was not able to unite the party and that is evidenced by his 72 per cent support at last fall's leadership convention.

"You can't win government with the two big cities," he said.

McIntosh said the party needs to gain ground in places such as Prince Albert and Moose Jaw — seats it was able to win and hold during the 1990s and into the early 2000s.

"They need somebody to unite the party behind itself and behind the new leader and presumably from the caucus but we'll wait and see," he said.

Trent Wotherspoon (left) shakes the hand of Ryan Meili (right) following the NDP leadership result in March 2018. Neither will be involved in the next leadership race. (Canadian Press)

Sally Housser who worked as press secretary for deceased former federal NDP leader Jack Layton and helped run the leadership race to select his successor, says the party needs to grow its base.

"You're simply not going to be able to form government without both growing the membership but also outreach beyond our base," she said.

More recently, Housser was interim chief of staff for Meili following the 2020 election and is now senior manager of public affairs for Canadian Strategy Group.

Housser says the race should include at least one person from outside the party caucus.

"I think it would be an asset to the party and no disrespect to any current caucus members, but to have somebody who is not a current caucus member in the field," she said.

Housser says having at least one candidate from outside the caucus would help increase interest in the party and also help raise money.

She says the party needs to hit a "sweet spot" of three to four candidates to provide a "diversity of voices."

Wotherspoon, Clark won't run

Two potential leadership candidates declared their intentions not to join the race in posts on social media this weekend.

MLA Trent Wotherspoon (Regina Rosemont) lost the leadership vote to Meili in 2018.

"I know what kind of sacrifice and grind it takes to serve as a leader and run for leader. At this stage of our family's life, I'm just not prepared to make that sacrifice," he said.

"I'm committed and motivated to serve as an MLA and a full member of the team. To do the hard work toward that next election to deliver change."

Wotherspoon was first elected in 2007 and has only served in opposition.

He was interim leader for 14 months in 2016 and 2017, following the election defeat of party leader Cam Broten.

He told CBC News on Saturday the next leader has the chance to build the party and  to "build trust with people all across our province."

"We have the opportunity to find someone exceptionally strong to bring new energy, some change, inspiring vision, and to have that fire in the belly."

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark also publicly announced he was not interested in seeking the NDP leadership.

"To be clear, I don't want the job. I am fully focused on leading Saskatoon right now in this crucial time of recovery and growth as mayor of the largest city in the province. I know that this race is very important," Clark wrote.

Clark said "in this moment Saskatchewan needs provincial leaders who will forge a common vision, bring our diverse communities together and cultivate the common ground between us."

Leadership rules and timeline could be decided by mid-March

The process and timeline to select a new leader will be the responsibility of the provincial council, which comprises members of the constituency associations.

The council meets this weekend and again on March 19. It will elect a five-member leadership contest committee that will agree to stay neutral.

All party members will be eligible to vote for the new leader.

Meili says he would recommend the party fill the position sooner rather than later.


Adam Hunter


Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: