REGINA – Sleep has been hard to come by for Ryan Meili so far this year.
The new Saskatchewan NDP leader has had to juggle a leadership race along with raising two young children with his wife, Mahli Brindamour.
His oldest son, Abraham, is six and often kept his dad company on trips during the campaign.
Little Augustin is just six months old.
“New baby in campaign meant that sleep is a distant memory,” Meili says.
“At the same time, it’s been something fun because the campaign life can be pretty stressful. Coming home to Abe and Gus sort of puts everything in perspective and I enjoy that.”
Meili, 42, defeated Trent Wotherspoon earlier this month to win the leadership of Saskatchewan’s official Opposition.
The NDP and its predecessor the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation have a proud history in the province. Meili follows in the footsteps of such political heavyweights as Tommy Douglas, Allan Blakeney and Roy Romanow, who were all party leaders and premiers.
Meili grew up in Courval, Sask., a tiny dot on the map southwest of Moose Jaw.
A family doctor by trade, he has practised across the province and did his residency in Saskatoon, where he’s spent the last several years. In 2012, he released a book called “A Healthy Society,” which argues that a focus on health can revive Canadian democracy.
His wife is also a doctor, a pediatrician, who focuses on refugee health.
Meili became a member of the New Democrats in 2001 when Lorne Calvert was premier. It was the same year Meili was arrested at protests surrounding the Summit of the Americas in Quebec.
Meili has known Calvert for more than a decade and calls him a friend.
“I’ve had a chance to know him and Roy Romanow quite well, and often will call them up and just go and listen to their stories and hear what their experiences were and their thoughts on what happened during their time in leadership,” Meili says.
“They’ve been really important voices for me, both of them.”
It took Meili three cracks to win the leadership. He had previously run in 2009 and 2013. He won the Saskatoon Meewasin seat in the legislature in a byelection last spring.
His leadership campaign this time around included proposals for a $15 minimum wage, universal pharmacare and removing corporate and union donations from politics.
Greg Poelzer, a political science professor at the University of Saskatchewan, says Meili’s election is a shift to the left for the party. He suggests that may help the NDP in urban areas, but not necessarily rural constituencies where the governing Saskatchewan Party just won three byelections.
“It might certainly energize the base, but when we look at the last three byelections that were recently held, I mean the numbers are frankly astonishing for the Sask. Party,” Poelzer says.
“And if you think of it as a mini referendum, it doesn’t bode well for the NDP, at least in rural Saskatchewan, for the next election.”
Meili is facing another rookie leader in the legislature. Scott Moe was chosen earlier this year as head of the Saskatchewan Party and premier, and takes over from the widely popular Brad Wall who retired.
Meili says that the April 10 budget “will frame a lot of what the debate will be like.”
Even Abraham knows his dad’s chief rival.
“He was telling his teacher the other day, he was so surprised, and she said, what are you so surprised about? ‘That Scott Moe won. I just didn’t see that coming.’
“He’s actually quite engaged,” Meili says.
“Hopefully I’m not making him deeply unpopular.”
— Follow @RyanBMcKenna on Twitter