The third time could be the charm for Dr. Ryan Meili as the 42-year-old physician takes his third shot at the leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP.
“I applied to medical school three times and was accepted on my third time,” Meili said. “This is also my third time running for the leadership so I’m hoping that’s a lucky number.”
Before helping to establish the Student Wellness Initiative Toward Community Health (SWITCH) Clinic in Saskatoon, and penning his book “A Health Society: How a Focus on Health Can Revive Canadian Democracy,” Meili gained his core values the way many in Saskatchewan do; through rural roots.
On their family farm near the town of Courval just 144-km from Regina, Meili grew up exploring the southern Saskatchewan prairie.
“I often think back to this big orange dog named George that we had. He and I would set out in the morning and go out on adventures, climb things, and probably endanger our lives on occasion,” Meili said. “Mom leans on the horn of the pick up when it was time to come back for lunch or supper.”
He speaks fondly of the farm his brother, Jim, still operates. Meili learned some important values early. As a youngster, Meili would roam around the land collecting rocks, driving the grain tractor, and of course lending a hand on the farm.
“You know your neighbours when you live on the farm and we certainly had good close connection with the folks around,” Meili said. “You knew if there was trouble for you, people would come and help and vice versa. Those values of hard work come natural when you live where there’s fewer people, and is something I’ve tried to carry into my life growing up.”
Meili eventually grew into an intellectual young adult, admitting that he almost always had his nose in a book.
“As much as I was on the farm and loved that, my mind was always travelling all over the world and into outer-space, and fantasy worlds.”
Meili initially applied to the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan with the goal of learning clinical skills to help underserved populations here in Saskatchewan and in developing countries. Today, after a multitude of clinical experiences all over Saskatchewan and around the world, Meili is ready to apply that knowledge to the leadership position of the NDP.
But before Meili was accepted to medical school, he was rejected twice. In between applications, he travelled the world. Starting in South America, he spent a deal of time in Brazil where he learned to speak Spanish and Portuguese. Following that adventure, Meili travelled to Nicaragua and helped communities who had been affected by landmines.
“I learned a lot about cultures but also about the inequalities that exist in the world,” Meili said. “I learned from some great mentors not to work for, but with and alongside the populations you’re connecting with. That further deepened my desire to work in that kind of setting and to practice medicine.”
Once Meili was in medical school, the skills he gained abroad started to pay off. He was invited as a Portuguese speaking student to attend a project in Mozambique in 2002. After the initial trip, Meili continued to return to work in Mozambique, visiting as a resident and later as a doctor.
During his time studying at the U of S in 1999, Meili met and became life-long friends with Dave Mitchell. Mitchell is a freelance editor, researcher, and communications strategist, and currently runs communications for Meili’s campaign.
“We connected over a love of bad puns,” Mitchell said of his meeting with Meili. “He understands the importance of story-telling, of changing people’s minds and motivating them to work together.”
Along with Mitchell, Meili was drawn to the 2001 Quebec City protests. Tens of thousands of protesters gathered at the 3rd Summit of the Americas in Quebec City to voice their concerns about a possible free trade area of the Americas.
“They built a fence around most of old Quebec to keep the protesters away,” Meili said. “It was quite the futile appearance.”
Meili explained he was part of a Saskatchewan group that made the road trip in a mini-van to Quebec to protest the trade deal. He said the deal would have made it much harder for Canada to have “decent employment and environmental standards.”
“At one point, while peacefully sharing our objections, the police felt that we weren’t in the right place so I spent a couple days in jail,” Meili said.
He recalled the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.
Meili’s life at home seems to be equally as rich in experience. His wife, Mahli, a pediatrician, has also travelled to Mozambique to serve the population seeking medical experts. Meili explained he and his wife’s passions as ‘intertwined’, and said that they share everything in life.
Their oldest son, six-year-old Abraham loves to go swimming with his dad at the Harry Bailey Aquatic Centre in Saskatoon. He’s taken after his dad, already showing an interest in the Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter books. The Meili’s youngest, Augustin or ‘Gus’, is just four months old.
“We share an interest in smiling at each other,” Meili said of his youngest son.
“Everything else I’ve achieved stems from that part of life being okay. Maybe a bit deeper, not to get too philosophical but some sense of being okay with the world and in my own self, allows that to happen.”
Meili will take his third run at the NDP leadership on March 3. in Regina.