Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi announces bid for Alberta NDP leadership

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Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi announces bid for Alberta NDP leadership
WATCH: Following weeks of speculation about his candidacy, former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is officially running for leader of Alberta's NDP. Adam MacVicar reports. – Mar 11, 2024

Following weeks of speculation, former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has officially entered the race to be the next leader of the Alberta NDP.

“I’m Naheed Nenshi, and I’m running to be leader of the Alberta NDP and your next premier,” he said in a video posted online on Monday.

“Together, we can beat Danielle Smith and the UCP.”

In the video, Nenshi targeted the premier and her government while contrasting the plight of Albertans in areas of health care, climate-related phenomena and affordability.

“I had six premiers while I was mayor, different ideologies, different levels of competence,” Nenshi said in a one-on-one interview with Global News. “I’ve never seen anything like this: a government this incompetent, a government this dangerous, this immoral. I realized I had to get engaged in anyway I can.”

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Click to play video: 'Naheed Nenshi calls Danielle Smith’s government ‘dangerous,’ enters Alberta NDP leadership race'
Naheed Nenshi calls Danielle Smith’s government ‘dangerous,’ enters Alberta NDP leadership race

Rumours about Nenshi’s candidacy began to swirl after the contest to replace outgoing leader Rachel Notley was announced earlier this year.

In his video announcement, Nenshi said he wanted to “build on the tremendous legacy of Rachel Notley and all of those who worked hard for this party.”

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Nenshi is the sixth candidate to enter the race so far along with Calgary-Mountain View MLA Kathleen Ganley, Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rahki Pancholi, Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse and Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.

Candidates have until March 15 to register for the race.

Click to play video: 'How would Naheed Nenshi change the AB NDP leadership race?'
How would Naheed Nenshi change the AB NDP leadership race?

Voting will begin on June 3 and run until June 22, when the results will be tallied and a winner announced.

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“I think (Nenshi) adds a lot more sizzle and a lot more excitement,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary. “He’s got much more name recognition than any other candidate, not just in Calgary but Alberta and nationwide.”

Nenshi sprang to national relevance after being elected mayor of Calgary in 2010 with 39 per cent of the vote, as the first Muslim mayor of a Canadian city and of a large North American city.

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He was thrust back into the national spotlight for his work throughout emergency response efforts during the devastating floods that ravaged the city in 2013, which led to his re-election with 73.6 per cent of the vote later that year.

Nenshi’s last run for re-election came in 2017 during a hard fought campaign against his main opponent Bill Smith.  Nenshi won a third term with 51 per cent of the vote while Smith garnered 43 per cent of the vote in a campaign that drew the highest voter turnout in 40 years.

After 10 years in the role, Nenshi announced he would not seek re-election in the 2021 municipal election.

The former mayor is known for wearing the colour purple, a combination of red and blue which he’s previously said represents a “post-partisan community where we can work together regardless of our political leanings.”

However, Nenshi said purple has also represented finding “common humanity,” and that he’s found common values between himself and the NDP.

“They value strong public services, they value safeguarding vulnerable people, they value balancing the budget, they value building a strong economy in tandem with being environmentally sustainable and understanding that our strong economy cannot exclude the energy sector in oil and gas,” Nenshi said. “When I realized those were the things they too value, I realized I could find a home there and I thought maybe I could invite other people to find a home within this party.”

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Evan Menzies, a senior campaign strategist with Crestview Strategy, said Nenshi’s centrist approach may face challenges with longtime NDP members who are protective of the party’s brand and values.

“Nenshi’s brand is purple, he’s a centrist, he’s always tried to appeal in the middle, whereas the NDP base has always been traditionally much further left than the middle in Alberta politics,” Menzies told Global News. “Will they welcome Nenshi in the race? Will they see Nenshi as the path they need to get back into power, or will they be more protective?”

Seldom publicly supporting a party, Nenshi did endorse Notley and the NDP in the last provincial election, despite describing it as a “loan” vote rather than outright support.

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Click to play video: 'Political analyst weighs in on Alberta NDP leadership race'
Political analyst weighs in on Alberta NDP leadership race

Several leadership candidates and NDP MLAs shared their thoughts on Nenshi’s candidacy Monday, including Pancholi, who expressed excitement he is joining the race.

“The path for us winning the election in 2027 is to grow our party as much as possible, so I’m actually very excited to see Naheed Nenshi enter the race,” she told reporters at the legislature. “I welcome him to the race because I think he’s seeing, like many Albertans are, that the Alberta NDP are going to be the next government in 2027.”

Nenshi’s announcement elicited a brazen response from Hoffman, who also welcomed the former mayor to the race.

“I’ve never felt more excited or hopeful about my campaign and I think he will make a great second place candidate,” Hoffman said.

Meanwhile, Calahoo Stonehouse said the NDP “doesn’t need another mayor,” but rather the party needs “a premier.”

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“The exciting thing is that he tells Albertans and shows and demonstrates that we’re not just competing to be the leader of the New Democrats, we are competing to be the Premier of Alberta,” she said.

Outgoing NDP leader Rachel Notley said Nenshi’s entry shows how competitive the race for her successor will be, but noted she would not be endorsing any of the candidates vying for her job.

“I’ve been very excited over the last few years by the growth of the party in Calgary,” Notley said. “I have no doubt that all of these candidates, including the former mayor, will in fact contribute to growing that level of activity there, in Edmonton and in communities all across this province.”

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Nenshi denies claims that he is the perceived frontrunner in the race as he only has “a short run,” until April 22 to sign up new members and garner support from current party members across the province.

“His path to victory is to sell memberships to people who are already in the party,” Bratt said. “The others have had a four or five week head start so he does have some challenges there.”

Nenshi also rebuked recent criticism that he is not a “team player,” saying he isn’t trying to “take over” the party, but rather welcome new members while staying true to the values of the party.

“This party does not need to be saved, certainly not by me. Three quarters of a million Albertans voted for them in the last election, so we need to build on that,” he said. “The ‘N’ in NDP should never stand for Naheed.”

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