In just over two weeks the Saskatchewan NDP will chose a new leader; Trent Wotherspoon or Ryan Meili.
The two met in a leadership forum hosted by the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce Friday afternoon. The two have met at dozens of events such as this, and one thing is certain: Wotherspoon and Meili agree on a lot.
This includes a belief that reconciliation with First Nations and Metis citizens is the biggest issue facing Saskatchewan, phasing in a $15 minimum wage in their first term as premier, and that Saskatchewan needs a climate plan that prevents a federally imposed carbon tax.
This race has no clear front-runner, and both candidates frequently joke about how much they agree. So what will set them apart?
Meili says his “bolder ideas” can play a factor, but he believes leadership style will play a role on the ballot.
“We don’t have to look and sound the way we’ve always sounded, but there’s some real opportunities for change,” Meili said.
“I think some people do respond well to that gentler and perhaps more authentic style.”
Meili delivers his message in a soft-spoken, bedside manner; fitting for the family physician who has only been an MLA for a year.
Wotherspoon on the other hand has 11 years in the Legislative Assembly under his belt. He delivers his message as a more traditional politician. A decade in opposition has also resulted in more confrontational relationship with the governing Saskatchewan party during Question Period.
The Regina-Rosemont MLA has a different take on what may decide the race.
“New Democrats are really looking for someone that can go out and reach out and build and unite our team across Saskatchewan and win that next election,” Wotherspoon said.
Winning the next election will be a tall order for whomever wins the leadership campaign. The previous two provincial elections have resulted in massive Saskatchewan Party majorities. The 2011 election saw the Sask. Party claim 47 seats, leaving the NDP with nine. The NDP won 10 seats in 2016, and the Saskatchewan Party ran away with 51.
Both candidates feel they have a strategy to turn more of the electoral map orange in 2020.
“We need to have a vision and commitments, but it’s much more than that. It’s about a relationship, and we need to go out and build really in every corner of our province,” Wotherspoon said.
“Part of it is having some strong and substantive pieces laid out clearly as part of one’s vision for Saskatchewan people well in advance of an actual election.”
A Meili-led NDP would employ a similar strategy.
“In the last election our message focused so much on the Sask Party and the problems with them that people weren’t sure what we stood for and what we wanted to achieve,” he said.
“That’s gotta be front and center this time around.”
The NDP Leadership Convention takes place on Saturday, March 3 in Regina.