The recent announcement that the Alberta NDP has grown to more than 85,000 members during the provincial leadership campaign has inevitably shifted the conversation to who has the best chance of leading this formidable political organization.  

When I was part of the NDP’s four-member caucus, along with current leader Rachel Notley, former leader Brian Mason, and David Eggen, the thought that we would be the largest provincial NDP branch in the country would have seemed a flight of political fancy.  

Even before this leadership contest started, it was clear that Notley will leave behind a party that is much stronger than the one she inherited, and this should give pause to the UCP and Premier Danielle Smith.  

Now that voting has begun and we anticipate the announcement of the winner on June 22, I want to congratulate the candidates. The four people who are on the leadership ballot all have run strong campaigns and deserve the respect and admiration of fellow New Democrats for investing their hearts and souls into this marathon of a race.  

As expected, Edmonton-Glenora MLA and former health minister Sarah Hoffman has proven formidable, framing herself as the candidate of choice for longtime New Democrats. She has focused her attention on the NDP policy sweet spot, namely growing and preserving health care and other public services.  

Kathleen Ganley’s home base of Calgary-Mountain View now has more Alberta NDP members (3,500) than any other constituency, indicating that she too had achieved success selling memberships and making her case to Alberta New Democrats.  

Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse has raised her profile in the party during this campaign and was especially impressive during leadership debates. Her candidacy has been an invaluable investment in her future and the party’s future.  

However, while nothing is certain until all the ballots are counted, it appears former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is the frontrunner. Although relatively late to the race, Nenshi hit the ground running, and has attracted crowds and support no matter where he has spoken.  

In my travels, people have asked me what will change if Nenshi is elected party leader.  

My answer is that he is likely to expand on the broad coalition approach that Notley built, but there is little for New Democrats to fear and there is much reason for hope.  

If Nenshi wins, his first order of business needs to be to go on a charm offensive to reach out to the other candidates, to members of the caucus who did not support him and to those who supported other candidates, to make it clear that they have an important place at the table.  

It is inevitable that there will be hard feelings after any leadership campaign. It is up to the winner to mend those fences.  

Next, he will have to assure traditional NDP supporters that his bigger-tent approach to politics will not be at the expense of party values, in particular support for public health care, education and other services, protection of human rights, and a commitment to ensure that the rights of working people are protected.  

Once that work is done, Nenshi can begin the job of building a broader coalition with a goal of defeating the governing UCP.  

My first cabinet post when the NDP formed government in 2015 was in municipal affairs. I found Nenshi, then the mayor of Calgary, to be very generous with his time and advice when I was a very new minister, including going shopping with me when I purchased my wardrobe for the Calgary Stampede.  

During formal briefings and less formal chats, it was clear to me that Nenshi had a strong commitment to progressive politics, while also recognizing that any Alberta political leader had to be an enthusiastic advocate for economic development, innovation, and growth — especially in a diversified, sustainable resource sector.  

In short, we had much in common.  

I believe that Nenshi’s purple brand and NDP orange can be complementary colours. I am also confident that if he is elected leader, Nenshi will be able to stay true to the NDP’s values while working to build the party’s base.  

Our Alberta Team will continue to provide insights into this race and what it means for business in the province – especially as speculation begins about who the new leader will pick for their shadow cabinet and senior staff.  

Look for our next update late this month – and the meantime – if you have questions please reach out. 

Deron Bilous Headshot on white brick background

Deron Bilous, Senior Vice President, Western Canada