The highly competitive Alberta NDP leadership race is heating up!  

Six people – four women, two men – are vying to succeed Rachel Notley. Four are current caucus members, two of whom are former cabinet ministers. One is a former mayor; the other is a veteran labour activist. 

Here are some thoughts on the candidate field (in alphabetical order). 

Kathleen Ganley 

A former lawyer, former attorney general, a sweat-the-details person and the only Calgary-based candidate from the current NDP caucus, Ganley is a strong performer in the Alberta Legislature.  She is a whip-smart policy person who can get a quick grasp on even the most complicated files.  

Given that selling new memberships and securing support of existing members is critically important in any leadership contest, Ganley has chosen her co-chairs wisely. Before she was an environment minister and finance critic, Shannon Phillips was a top-notch labour and political organizer.   

Calgary-based MLA and former attorney Irfan Sabir is one of the best community organizers in the party.  Among other endorsements, the support of former Alberta NDP Leader and Cabinet Minister Brian Mason will resonate with long-time party supporters. 

Ganley has also secured Jeremy Nolais, Rachel Notley’s chief of staff in opposition and head of her issues team in government, to lead her campaign. In leadership campaigns, team matters. And this is a very good team. 

Sarah Hoffman 

No one will outwork Sarah Hoffman. Even when she served as Health Minister and as Deputy Premier, Hoffman found the time to knock on doors in her constituency and show up to help her colleagues. 

She is highly respected among existing party members, and we suspect this is the most fertile ground for Hoffman.  In her opening pitch, she didn’t mince words: “I’mfat, I’m sassy. And I have a really hard time trying to be something that I’m not.” 

Before being elected as an MLA and as a trustee and chair of the Edmonton School Board, Hoffman was a political organizer herself, and knows the job ahead of her. 

While in government and in Opposition, Hoffman has joyfully taken on the role of Question Period attack dog and is always willing to deliver strong contrast messaging that some of other colleagues avoided. 

Hoffman also has a strong team which among others includes Erica Bullwinkle, Tanya Malo, Miriam Rycroft and Ben Alldritt. Hoffman also has a number of high-profile endorsements including former leader Ray Martin. 

Never count out this happy warrior. 

Gil McGowan 

Gil McGowan has been a major force in Alberta’s labour community for nearly a quarter century. The long-time president of the Alberta Federation of Labour boasts an extensive resume championing progressive issues in the province. 

His list of policy accomplishments for which he advocated include reform of the temporary foreign worker program, a $15 per hour minimum wage, pension reform, reforms to the labour code and employment standards, and reforms to occupational health and safety and WCB legislation. 

Many of these achievements occurred from 2015-2019 when the Alberta NDP formed government under Rachel Notley. 

McGowan is the only candidate in the field who has never served in elected political office, although he did run unsuccessfully in the federal Edmonton Centre constituency in 2015 and has been elected as AFL leader on multiple occasions. 

McGowan is also a fighter, and his love of a good battle will come in handy in the days and weeks ahead.  

Naheed Nenshi 

Name recognition matters in politics. And there is no doubt that Naheed Nenshi will be the best-known candidate of anyone in the field. He was also a three-term mayor of Calgary, a city that the Alberta NDP needs to win decisively if it wants any chance to win the election.  

Nenshi knows how to get earned media.  His recent and heartfelt defense of trans kids in reaction to Danielle Smith’s parental rights legislation is a clear demonstration that he has not lost his touch in front of a microphone.  

Although on the progressive side of the political spectrum, Nenshi will also appeal to voters uncomfortable with Smith’s embrace of social conservatives but still cannot get their heads around supporting a social democratic party.   

Nenshi also has Zain Velji leading his campaign team, a talented strategist who did much of the work on his successful mayoral campaigns. 

His strongest message is that he knows how to win. After losing to the UCP in 2019 and in 2023, progressive and moderate voters will be very receptive to that message. 

Rakhi Pancholi

Rakhi Pancholi brings a lot to the table – professional, suburban mom, and the daughter of immigrant parents. She will contrast well against Danielle Smith. 

Pancholi rose quickly as a go-to person in Opposition, serving as Official Opposition critic for Children’s Services. 

Pancholi was elected in 2019 and as a result, she comes into this race not being associated with the Notley government. In addition, her pre-political resume is excellent. She was a lawyer working in the areas of education, labour, and employment.  

She also worked her constituency hard since being elected and, among others, has the support of Calgary Glenmore MLA Nagwan Al-Guneid and St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud. 

Her decision to appoint respected organizer Esmahan Razavi as her campaign director is wise on two levels. Razavi is very good at what she does, and she is also Calgary based, which inoculates Pancholi against the fact that she is from Edmonton. She also has Leah Ward, the former communications director for Rachel Notley, signed on as an advisor.  

Strong candidate, strong team: it’s a formidable combination. 

Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse 

In 2023, the list of First Nations women elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly is very short. 

It begins and ends with Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse. At the International Peace Pow Wow in Lethbridge, she announced her bid to be the First Indigenous Leader of the NDP and ultimately, the first Indigenous Premier of Alberta. 

A first-term MLA for Edmonton Rutherford, Stonehouse has a strong pre-politics resume. She ran her own award-winning film company. She served as an advisor to the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta and as a member of the Edmonton Police Commission among other experience. 

More than any other candidate, Stonehouse has made environmental protection the cornerstone of her campaign. She specifically focused on drought conditions in Alberta as her call to action both in terms of water management and addressing the issues of climate change. 

Stonehouse has attracted some talented people for her team. Harlee Courtepatte, founder and CEO of Edmonton-based Agile, has signed on as her campaign manager. Amy Nugent, who helped senior positions in both government and in Opposition for the Alberta NDP, is a senior advisor on her campaign.  

In a year when Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew was elected Premier of Manitoba as the province’s first premier from a First Nation, Stonehouse is making the case that now is the time for transformational leadership change in Alberta. 

The next leader of the Alberta NDP and Leader of the Opposition will be elected on June 22 by a ranked ballot of party members. March 15 is the deadline for candidates to declare and April 22 is the deadline to become a member eligible to vote for leader.  

To learn more about what this means for your sector, business, or association, please reach out to the Counsel Public Affairs Alberta team: 

Deron Bilous Headshot on white brick background

Deron Bilous, Senior Vice President, Western Canada

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Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Principal