Jason Hammond

Blogger, librarian

In the current Sask NDP leadership race, you’ll see lots of endorsements from many of the high profile people you’d expect to hear from – current and former MPs and MLA’s, grassroots and labour activists, young leaders and lifetime members.

I’d like to talk to you from a different perspective – as a working librarian who truly believes that the library is the embodiment of democracy in our society and that improved literacy is a key factor in creating a healthy society. 

That’s why the Sask Party’s cuts to libraries in the 2017 Budget were so shocking – they were unexpected, they were unnecessary, and they struck a blow at the heart of democracy, threatening to end library services and hurt readers in towns and cities across the entire province.

Luckily, there were many who rose up to oppose the cuts and play a role in seeing them overturned – everyone from the thousands who joined non-partisan online advocacy groups, citizens’ groups with petitions, the Sask Library Association, CUPE, and influential members of library boards across the province who met quietly with the government to help convince them to see the error of their ways.

All NDP MLA’s were strong defenders of libraries, some because of their roles within the party, some because of their innate love of libraries, and many because of a combination of both. 

I was particularly impressed with Ryan Meili’s response, not because he was the Leader or a Critic with responsibility in this area but because he was someone who is clearly a lifelong fan of libraries who also understands the library’s role in creating a healthy society. During the crisis, he wrote a powerful post on his MLA Facebook page that spoke to his long connection to libraries from his earliest days as part of the Palliser Regional library system in rural Saskatchewan.

"I have very fond memories of going to our post office box in Courval as a kid and opening up a package with 5 new library books to read. I can still recall the smell of the books and the excitement of a new set of stories. My ongoing love of learning and curiosity about the world was fostered by those regular shipments of books and occasional visits to the inspiring Moose Jaw Public Library facility." – Ryan Meili

That connection paid off when Ryan was able to set the behind-the-scenes process in motion to arrange for six Palliser employees, who had received their pink slips in the wake of the cuts to visit the Legislature, get introduced in the house, and be interviewed by the media.  Giving a human face to how endangered libraries actually were was one of many turning points in the fight against the library cuts. 

There are numerous reasons I think Ryan Meili is the right choice for this party. 

His upbringing in rural Saskatchewan. The fact that he’s a doctor which is one of the most trusted professions in our society at a time when people’s trust of “typical” politicians is broken.  His proven ability to fundraise, utilize social media, and inspire new members of the party.  But the fact that he’s an author, a lover of language, and a long-time advocate for libraries are the reasons that are closest to my heart.

Libraries were already doing this but, in the wake of the Sask Party’s egregious cuts, the lesson became more urgent.  Organizations need to evolve and change if they want to remain relevant to society. 

My hope is that the Sask NDP has also learned the same lesson after a decade of not only failing to advance but actually falling further behind in the last two provincial elections in 2011 and 2016.  We need to be bold, innovative, and to present a credible alternative by telling voters what we’re for (universal pharmacare!) instead of just saying what we’re against (gravy planes?!?) if we want to win in 2020.

There is no one better positioned to tell that story than a bestselling author, a trusted doctor and a small-town kid whose time spent in libraries growing up has led him to this point. 

Together, let’s make Ryan the next Leader of the Saskatchewan NDP and write a new chapter for our province!