Ryan Meili told his Prince Albert supporters he would to use his medical background to build a healthier province if he’s chosen to lead the Saskatchewan’s NDP.
The Saskatoon-Meewasin MLA, who won his seat in a March byelection, now has his sights set on winning the party’s leadership over former interim leader Trent Wotherspoon. Meili stopped in Prince Albert yesterday where he spoke to a packed conference room at a local hotel. A former family doctor and author of a book on public health, Meili said he wants to tackle Saskatchewan’s health problems by addressing social issues including poverty, education and unemployment.
“What really makes a difference in people’s health is actually whether they have a decent job, whether they were able to get far enough in school, how much money they have, and whether they have a safe place to stay,” Meili told paNOW. “My approach to politics is trying to build a healthier province.”
By addressing the social determinants of health, Meili said an active government can work to prevent people from getting sick in the first place. A healthy economy leads to a healthy population, he said, which means it’s important for the province to take steps to reduce poverty and ensure well-paying jobs are available.
Infrastructure can also play a role in determining public health, Meili said, noting a new healthcare facility in Prince Albert would be used by most of the province’s northern residents.
“I think P.A. and much of northern Saskatchewan has been neglected from an infrastructure point of view,” Meili said. “There are some infrastructure needs here in P.A., and the hospital is a big one.”
The SaskParty’s numerous cuts to public services and Crown corporations were brought up several times during Meili’s speech, often drawing a chorus of boos from the lively crowd. Meili said the Brad Wall government delivered “the budget from hell,” and discussed harm done to the North by the loss of STC, the provincially-funded busing company. Meili said he’s spoken with farmers who can no longer get parts delivered quickly and have lost days in the field as a result, and said he’s concerned other Crowns will also be cut or sold off as a “quick cash-grab.”
Meili said the Saskatchewan NDP needs to focus on winning rural support away from the Saskatchewan Party in order to be successful in the next general election. While the NDP saw a recent resurgence in Saskatchewan’s urban centres, including the byelection which saw Meili himself elected, the leadership candidate said it’s important for rural voters to be included.
“For a long time the Saskatchewan NDP has not been out and present in rural Saskatchewan the way we should be,” Meili said. “We won’t form government, nor will we really be serving Saskatchewan, if we’re not also representing rural Saskatchewan.”
“I think there’s a lot of appetite for change,” he added, “but we need to show that we’re actually interested in making that change.”
The leadership hopeful said he’s focused on getting out of the cities and touring the rural areas of the province, in order to connect with as many rural voters as possible and learn which issues are most important to them. Meili said he visited the northern communities of La Loche and Île-à-la-Crosse this week, where he spoke with many community members and local leaders, and received an endorsement from NDP MP Georgina Jolibois.
The Saskatchewan NDP will vote for their leader March 3. Meili and former interim leader Trent Wotherspoon are the only candidates who have so far declared, but additional candidates could enter the race before Jan. 12.
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