“I heard this from so many candidates who saw what I was saying, saw what our platform was saying and said, ‘Yeah, that’s really good stuff. I agree with that, but I can’t vote NDP,'” Meili told The Canadian Press in an interview.
“We need to figure out how do we move past that? How do we think about presenting ourselves in a new light and not allowing the Sask. Party to be the ones that are telling our story?”
The NDP won 13 out of 61 seats in the legislature on Oct. 26 — the same amount the party had when the election campaign was called.
Premier Scott Moe led the Saskatchewan Party to its fourth straight majority with 48 seats.
The election was Meili’s first as party leader. The 45-year-old family doctor won a byelection to take a seat in the legislature in 2017 and was chosen as leader the following year on his third try.
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Meili bucked the trend of the previous two elections when the NDP leaders resigned after losing their seat. He believes his success in being re-elected puts the party in a better spot than it has been in for years.
Despite saying on the campaign trail he was in the election to win, Meili admits he didn’t think the party would form government. But promising polling data and positive feedback from candidates and the public gave him the impression that the party had a shot at gaining more seats.
So on election night, when he took the stage at a hotel in downtown Saskatoon to deliver a concession speech, he was visibly disappointed as he realized the party was not likely to end up much better off than when it started the campaign.
“We’d hoped for more,” he said. “We thought it would be more than 13.”
Meili has been speaking to his caucus and said there will be an analysis to understand what the party could have done differently.
Campaigning on a message of change at a time when people’s lives have been upended because of the COVID-19 pandemic may have factored into voter choices and turnout, he suggested.
Meili also said the party probably could have done a better job since it lost power in 2007 of defending its legacy against attacks by the Saskatchewan Party. He believes the centre-right party has tried to rewrite the NDP’s storied history as the party that introduced medicare to one that closed hospitals in the 1990s — a strategy he admits has worked.
“A lot of people have heard those messages and internalized them. There is some really important work for us to do to understand what people think about the NDP — our brand, our image and do the work to share a different story.”
“We’d be lying to ourselves if that wasn’t the case.”
Meili is to face a party leadership review next year. He said his message to members is going to be that he’s committed to working hard to put the party in a stronger position for the next election.
“We obviously need to grow (voter percentage) if we’re going to be competitive for government.”