Still too close to call, Sask. NDP Leader Ryan Meili's seat could be in jeopardy

During his concession speech Monday night, NDP Leader Ryan Meili poked fun at his presently uncertain future in Saskatchewan politics. 

"To the people of Meewasin, it has been an honour to serve as your MLA. I'd like to continue to do so. We'll find out more about that later tonight," Meili said.

But as time passed, there was still no clarity. As of 11:15 p.m., with the majority of polls in his Saskatoon Meewasin constituency reporting, Meili trailed behind Saskatchewan Party candidate Rylund Hunter by 83 votes.

With such a narrow margin between Meili and Hunter — a former University of Saskatchewan Huskies football player — the close to 1,700 mail-in ballots sent out in the electoral district will likely be the deciding factor in the race.

If Meili holds his seat, he will buck a trend that has plagued his predecessors, NDP leaders Cam Broten and Dwain Lingenfelter, who failed to win their own seats in the 2016 and 2011 elections respectively.

The constituency was also home to a tight race in 2016 when Roger Parent claimed the seat for the Sask. Party with just over 50 per cent of the vote. 

With his own fate up in the air, Meili tried to look towards the future during his speech delivered at the Delta Hotel in Saskatoon.

"There are thousands and thousands of people across Saskatchewan that voted for change tonight. And I want to tell you this is not the end. This is the beginning," Meili said.

"I believe it's going to be the strongest opposition this province has seen in years and we will fight for you."

Like his chief rival, Sask. Party Leader Scott Moe, this was the first time Meili lead his party into a general election.

Meili first entered provincial politics in 2009 when he made his bid for the NDP leadership. Meili came second to Lingenfelter.

In Sept. 2012 Meili announced he would seek the NDP leadership in what was a four-horse race between Meili, Broten, Trent Wotherspoon and Erin Weir. Following a leadership vote in 2013, Meili once again fell short, collecting 44 fewer votes than Broten.

 In 2017, following the death of Parent in November of the previous year, Meili put his name forward in a byelection for Parent’s vacant seat in Saskatoon Meewasin. Meili defeated Sask. Party candidate Brent Penner, pulling in more than 54 per cent of the vote.

Four months later Meili made his third bid for the NDP leadership, eventually winning in March 2018 with 55 per cent of the vote, defeating his lone opponent Wotherspoon. Meili was named the party’s seventh leader.

During an interview with CTV News on election night, longtime Sask. Party MLA and cabinet minister Don Morgan, who was handily re-elected in his Saskatoon Southeast constituency, was asked about his party's apparent habit of denying NDP leaders their own seats.

"We're not making that as a specific target. But taking seats and winning government is something we absolutely want to do," Morgan said.

Meili, along with voters, may have to wait a while to learn if his seat is among those taken by the Sask. Party during this election.

With files from Francois Biber and Laura Woodward