What’s driving New Democrats in the West away from Jagmeet Singh’s NDP

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

Earlier this week, Edmonton MLA Rakhi Pancholi said that buying a membership in the party she hopes to lead — the Alberta NDP — should not automatically bring a membership in the party Jagmeet Singh leads — the federal NDP — as it does now.

And even before that, the Alberta NDP and Saskatchewan NDP took it upon themselves to issue a joint statement denouncing a proposal made by federal NDP MP Charlie Angus that New Democrats in those two provinces saw as an unhelpful and inappropriate anti-oil-and-gas idea.

These were the latest examples of growing friction between Western New Democrats and their eastern and mostly federal cousins. And if there is a future for the NDP in Canada, it certainly seems to be in the well-funded, politically powerful, more centrist and pragmatic provincial parties in the country’s four western provinces. In the West, it has been clear for some time that the only alternative to conservative parties in those provinces is the New Democrats.

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Ontario’s NDP, despite having been the official opposition through two provincial parliaments, appears to have squandered the opportunity to set itself up as the natural alternative to the governing Progressive Conservatives in that province. From Quebec east through the Atlantic provinces, provincial New Democrats are non-existent to invisible.

Click to play video: 'Alberta NDP MLA Kathleen Ganley launches leadership bid'
Alberta NDP MLA Kathleen Ganley launches leadership bid

But Western New Democrats have all tasted power and are eager to do so again in the two provinces where they are on the opposition benches. In Saskatchewan this year, Carla Beck’s NDP appear poised to present her party’s best answer yet to the seemingly unbeatable Saskatchewan Party which has had an unbroken string of general election wins since 2007.

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And now Pancholi — who has a better than even chance of becoming the next leader of Alberta’s NDP — says it’s time for the provincial party to break up with the national party.

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“We limit our ability to grow our party and to bring more Albertans in by forcing a federal political party affiliation on them,” Pancholi wrote in a statement posted on her social feeds. “Each member should be able to make that choice for themselves. Our party should not decide for them.”

Such a move could have significant national implications as the close and automatic ties in the NDP between the national party and its provincial wings is an important source of money and volunteers — on both sides of the ledger. It has also meant that the federal NDP is almost certainly larger than it otherwise would have been without those automatic provincial memberships.

Click to play video: 'Sarah Hoffman latest candidate to enter Alberta NDP leadership race'
Sarah Hoffman latest candidate to enter Alberta NDP leadership race

Pancholi entered the Alberta NDP leadership race with a splash declaring that the Trudeau government should indeed axe the carbon tax. Then, this week, she won endorsements from three caucus colleagues including first-time MLAs Nagwan Al-Guneid and Rhiannon Hoyle along with veteran Marie Renaud.

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It’s worth noting the kind of neighbourhoods Pancholi and her endorsers have each had to win to take their seats in Alberta’s legislature. Pancholi has twice won in her suburban riding, Edmonton-Whitemud, that, in federal elections, has returned buttoned-down Conservative Kelly McCauley in the federal Riverbend riding.

Nagwan Al-Guneid knocked off popular United Conservative incumbent Whitney Issik in the provincial riding of Calgary-Glenmore last year and then, months later in a federal by-election, those same voters gave Conservative Shuvaloy Majumdar a ticket to Parliament in the federal riding of Calgary Heritage, the riding, it’s worth noting, that one Stephen Harper once represented.

Hoyle’s provincial riding of Edmonton South is also a fast-growing suburban area and forms a good chunk of the federal riding of Edmonton–Wetaskawin, where Conservative Mike Lake has been racking up whopping majorities in every federal election since 2006.

And up in St. Albert, on Edmonton’s northwest border, Marie Renaud has won three times in a riding that keeps sending Conservative Michael Cooper to the House of Commons.

That’s four New Democrat women who somehow appeal to the very same voters who also choose Conservative men as their elected representatives.

Back in Ontario, Charlie Angus knows that if he loses in the next federal election, it’s almost certainly going to be to a Conservative.

And both the federal and provincial NDP in Ontario have long been trying to leap to the next level of electoral success by winning big in Ontario’s rust-belt, the region west of Highway 6 in communities like Chatham, London, Woodstock, and Brantford, a region where New Democrats hold just two seats but should be able to win three, maybe four times as many.

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It’s also a region where the federal Conservatives now dominate.

To be more successful, New Democrats in Ontario and in other parts of eastern Canada need to make themselves appear to voters as the natural alternative to a conservative.

They might might wish to take a close look at Pancholi and her backers — and at Western New Democrats more generally — to learn the secret of their electoral success.

David Akin is the chief political correspondent for Global News.

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