The leader of Saskatchewan’s opposition party has announced his intentions to resign.

Ryan Meili first disclosed his planned departure to the CBC Friday morning before holding a press event in Saskatoon where he made the decision official.

“I am incredibly proud to have been elected MLA in Saskatoon Meewasin and to have been the leader of the NDP,” Meili told a room full of reporters gathered at his constituency office.

Meili says he will continue to remain in caucus as the MLA for the Saskatoon Meewasin riding for the time being and will continue to serve as the opposition leader during the spring sitting of the legislative assembly.

He says he will step down when the party chooses a new leader, which he hopes will happen in the coming months.

Athabasca defeat

The announcement comes days after the NDP took what some have called an upset loss in the Athabasca by-election.

The NDP had held that seat since 1998 before the SaskParty’s Jim Lemaigre defeated the NDP’s Georgina Jolibois in Tuesday’s by-election. Voter turnout was low for the election with only 24 percent of eligible voters turning up to a ballot box.

While Meili says the result provided “clarity” he says he has been debating stepping down for some time.

Opposition leader during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Saskatoon doctor, who has held the party leadership position since March 2018, was the main voice of opposition during the unprecedented time in Saskatchewan political history that was the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I have no regrets about speaking up for public health action and no regrets about being courageous in telling the people the truth instead of having to pander,” he said. “The only regret I have is that we weren’t able to force this government to take Covid more seriously… Scott Moe has failed us and I am sorry we weren’t able to force him to do better.”

Rather than presenting his resignation as a defeat, Meili is painting it as an opportunity for the Saskatchewan NDP as he believes support has been rising for the party in recent months.

“Scott Moe and the SaskParty are tumbling in the eyes of Saskatchewan people and the right-wing is fracturing as they fight among themselves,” said Meili. “There is a real opportunity for us to do what we need to do, which is to get rid of the SaskParty and bring in an NDP government.”

As Meili was the main voice of opposition against the government during the Covid-19 pandemic he believes his voice may carry too much baggage moving forward.

“That’s why today I want to make sure during that opportunity I can help and not hinder, so we are truly able to establish that new voice with a new vision.”

Advice for the government now that they have a northern seat

Now that the SaskParty has won a seat in northern Saskatchewan Meili urged the premier to spend more time in the region. He pointed to the high levels of poverty and mental health in the area and urged the government to listen to constituents to help battle these issues.

“There are opportunities for people, but only if the government takes them seriously,” said Meili. “That would be a very great change from this government if they showed any true attention to northern Saskatchewan.”

(PHOTO: Ryan Meili announcing his planned resignation at his constituency office in Saskatoon.  Photo by Joel Willick)