MLA Rakhi Pancholi throws hat in ring for Alberta NDP leadership race

Click to play video: 'MLA Rakhi Pancholi throws hat in ring for Alberta NDP leadership race'
MLA Rakhi Pancholi throws hat in ring for Alberta NDP leadership race
Another candidate has put their name forward, hoping to become the next leader of the Alberta NDP. This comes as many wonder how the party will try to sway more voters ahead of the next provincial election. Jasmine King has more on Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi's announcement – Feb 8, 2024

The field of candidates vying to become the next leader of Alberta’s New Democratic Party got slightly larger on Thursday as Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi announced she is running for the job.

In a campaign video released Thursday morning, Pancholi did not make specific comments on policy but touched on the energy sector, the environment, the cost of living, health care and education.

“Let’s continue to be the global energy leaders we’ve always been while also leading on climate action,” she is heard saying in the video. “Let’s ensure we are a place where having a home is always within your reach no matter the size of your paycheque.

“Let’s make sure every Albertan has a family doctor. … Let’s prepare our kids to be the best-educated generation in the country.”

However, during a radio interview on 630 CHED, Pancholi took a firm position on a carbon tax.

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“We need to consider what a strong climate leadership plan would look like — that does not include a consumer carbon price,” she told Courtney Theriault, the host of Midday on 630 CHED.

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What’s next for the Alberta NDP?

“Since 2016 and earlier, the majority of Albertans continue to oppose a consumer carbon tax. I want to distinguish this from an industrial carbon tax, which not only did the NDP bring in but the UCP has continued and increased actually, the industrial carbon price, because we know that works to reduce emissions,” Pancholi said.

“But when it comes to a consumer carbon tax, Albertans have actually been pretty consistent in saying they do not support that, and they’ve not been swayed around arguments that it’s revenue neutral, and it’s been very, very poorly communicated by the federal government about how it actually affects climate change and how it makes a difference,” she continued.

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“What’s really important for a leader of any political party, and I think that includes the Alberta NDP, is that we have to be able to look carefully at what Albertans are saying and respond appropriately. We can’t be tied to old ideas just because they were the way they used to be.”

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Still, she said Albertans have indicated a strong climate action plan is important to them.

“They want to see energy policy going forward that’s going to reflect both our oil and gas sector but also we’re a powerhouse when it comes to renewable energy.”

Duane Bratt, a professor of political science at Mount Royal University, said Pancholi’s leadership announcement was impressive and professional.

“It was a video not aimed at existing NDP members. It was aimed at a much wider population.”

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He said her stance on the carbon tax made it clear she’s confident charting her own path.

“She critiqued the consumer-based carbon tax in Alberta. This is notable because that was the signature policy initiative of the Notley government. But Pancholi was not part of the Notley government. She was only elected in 2019,” Bratt said.

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“It’s clear she’s not afraid to take a stand. The consumer-based carbon tax is not popular, and instead of pushing back on that unpopularity, she is going to say that they should pivot and focus on the industrial level and not the consumer level.”

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Pancholi’s announcement comes three days after Calgary-Mountain View MLA Kathleen Ganley held a news conference to tell Albertans she had entered the leadership race.

Pancholi was first elected as an MLA in 2019. The former lawyer’s website notes her legal career saw her gain experience in areas that include education, labour and employment.

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Her website says she has done volunteer work with the Humane Animal Rescue Team, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and the Edmonton Community Legal Centre.

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In an interview with Global News on Thursday, Pancholi said she believes many people in the province are turned off by some of Alberta’s fights with Ottawa and that she hopes to help reduce the level of polarization in politics.

“I’m hoping this leadership race will have a lot of ideas and I want to think big and I want to break a little bit from perhaps ideas that we’ve held for some time to sort of say, ‘Look, we’ve got to approach these complex issues with solutions and we have to do that by bringing people together and really thinking about things in a positive way,” she said.

“We really need to remember that we’re all Albertans and we have a lot of things to be excited about and that’s what we need to focus our energy on.”

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Global News asked Pancholi about the challenge of trying to win support in Calgary when the NDP is traditionally stronger in Edmonton.

That’s the challenge for any person who is putting their name forward … to reflect the entire province,” she acknowledged.

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Pancholi noted that despite the 2023 election loss, the NDP made gains in Calgary and suggested that she wants to focus on understanding the needs of people in mid-sized cities, smaller towns and rural areas as much as Alberta’s two largest cities.

“Any person who is serious about winning in 2027 – and that includes me – has to know that we can’t just rely on support in the major cities in Edmonton and Calgary,” she said. “We made some great progress in Calgary, and we’re going to continue to do that. But really, it has to be that we’re going to gain some support and seats outside of Edmonton and Calgary.

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“We need to be having a mandate from all Albertans.

“Every premier should be running with the idea that they’re there to represent all Albertans.

“We need to be open and engaged and listening.”

Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi announced she is running to become leader of the Alberta NDP. Supplied by Rakhi Pancholi Leadership Campaign

Last month, the Alberta NDP announced rules that would govern the race, which is set to wrap up with a final day of voting on June 22.

The next leader of the Alberta NDP will replace Rachel Notley, who served as premier from 2015 to 2019 after leading the party to its first-ever provincial election victory in Alberta.

Notley, who announced she would leave her post last month, has said she plans to remain in her current role as party leader until a replacement is selected.

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Alberta’s last provincial election saw the NDP lose to the United Conservative Party.

Pancholi said she personally feels very grateful to have served in the legislature under Notley’s leadership.

“She’s the reason I ran in 2019 — because she demonstrated how it was possible as premier to be pragmatic and thoughtful and hear input from different perspectives and come forward with good strong policy ideas,” Pancholi said. “She has laid that foundation.

“This is the next chapter. I think what we need is a leader who can really connect to all those folks who maybe didn’t traditionally consider themselves Alberta NDP supporters, but whose values and priorities are very much aligned with us and the things that we’re doing.”

Click to play video: 'What’s next for the Alberta NDP?'
What’s next for the Alberta NDP?

MacEwan University political science professor Chaldeans Mensah said a successful NDP leadership candidate will capitalize on Notley’s success.

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“I think it’s representing that kind of breakthrough that we’ve seen with the NDP in Edmonton. She (Pancholi) represents a different face of the party, doesn’t have deep connectedness to the party establishment,” he said.

“Make no mistake, it’s going to be a tough contest. You have the big names from Calgary wanting to change the party’s location from Edmonton to Calgary. Then you have the Edmonton leadership contest that is trying to maintain that.”

Mensah said the NDP leader will have to demonstrate a balance between the environment and the economy.

“(The Alberta NDP’s) association with the federal NDP is highly problematic in this province because the NDP at the federal level comes up with all kinds of policies that are not in tune for Alberta’s political culture,” he said. “We need a new leader to set a new direction.”

Party members must be in good standing by purchasing or renewing their membership by April 22 in order to vote in the contest.

The NDP has said the race will have a spending limit of $500,000 per contestant and that fees will total $60,000 per candidate.


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