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The Divisions Within Sask. NDP

04/15/2013 04:41 EDT | Updated 06/14/2013 05:12 EDT

On March 9, 2013, the provincial NDP crown once again eluded Ryan Meili, a family physician from Saskatoon, losing to the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Saskatoon Massey Place, Cam Broten, by a slim margin of 44 votes.

The party has been in dire circumstances since 2011 when the then leader Dwain Lingenfelter took the Saskatchewan NDP from 20 members in the legislature to 9, bringing the number of NDP seats in the legislature into the single digits for the first time since the 1980's.

While the 2013 Saskatchewan NDP leadership race intended to bring the party back from the brink of relevance, this leadership race simply widened pre-existing divides within the party.

Rumours circulating in the wild world of Saskatchewan politics claim that Broten prevented Meili from taking the NDP nomination for Saskatoon Sutherland before the 2011 Saskatchewan general election.

Opposing parties in Saskatchewan have also picked up on the NDP's internal division, with the Saskatchewan Party MLA for Martensville and Minister for Central Services Nancy Heppner stating "I know in the past Mr. Meili has referenced the garbage within the party... the challenges that he faced when he ran for a nomination in Sutherland."

It is no secret that serious bridge building is needed within the NDP house if they are to ever have a hope of regaining their "natural governing" status within the province, to which many NDP supporters feel entitled.

In Broten's victory speech the new leader commended Meili for his campaign's efforts, hoping that Meili would seek a seat in the legislature in the next provincial election.

When asked about this Meili was noncommittal "I'm hesitant to make a firm prediction. Obviously there's a lot of pressure to commit 100% to seeking a nomination," said Meili. "We will have to see if Cam wants me there... if we can work together."

This lack of communication between Broten and Meili a month after the leadership race highlights the divide within the Saskatchewan NDP and puts future electoral gains in jeopardy.

Adding to the divide is Meili's opposition to one of Broten's first acts as Opposition Leader, endorsing the Keystone XL pipeline project he originally voted against, which would transport petroleum products from Canada to refineries in the United States.

"I think it's something we need to talk about more deeply," said Meili. "I think it's economically not wise, I also have environmental concerns with it [Keystone]. It will send jobs away [from the province]..." Meili added.

Saskatchewan Party MLA Heppner commented on Meili's claim "There are more than 34,000 jobs currently in the upstream oil and gas field so I don't think this is an export of jobs. I think this has the potential to create more jobs."

According to Heppner, Meili's claims surrounding Keystone are false. But in his newfound support of Keystone, the new leader of the Saskatchewan NDP is more aligned with Heppner and the Saskatchewan Party's stance on Keystone than his leadership runner up.

When asked about Meili's opposition to Broten's changing stance on Keystone, Heppner added "I think this highlights and ongoing rift in their party... I'm not sure he's going to have the backing of all of his NDP supporters considering the decision he's made,"

"When you consider that he only won with 44 votes obviously Mr. Meili has a large percentage of the NDP on his side... I think Mr. Broten's got some work ahead of him to unite the party." added Heppner.

Meili's hesitance to become more entrenched in the party after his second leadership loss, along with his opposition to Broten's first major act as the new leader, come at a cost to the Saskatchewan NDP.

Given the high level of support Meili received in the leadership race there are doubtless many in the NDP who disagree with Broten's view on Keystone, but Meili's comments display a party divided not only between leaders, but also in membership.

It remains to be seen how Broten will bridge the divide between the half of the party that supports his more moderate vision for the NDP and the half that clings to the far left policies the Saskatchewan electorate has so gleefully rejected.