Pancholi drops out of Alberta NDP leadership race, supports Nenshi

Click to play video: 'Alberta NDP membership doubles since Nenshi entered the leadership race, Pancholi drops out'
Alberta NDP membership doubles since Nenshi entered the leadership race, Pancholi drops out
Alberta NDP leadership candidate Rakhi Pancholi has dropped out of the race and put her support behind Naheed Nenshi, who has doubled the NDP's membership since entering the race. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports – Mar 26, 2024

Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi has dropped out of the Alberta NDP leadership race.

In a statement Tuesday morning, Pancholi said she is ending her campaign to throw her support behind former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Pancholi said NDP leadership candidates recently received an update on membership sales, the first such update since Nenshi joined the race. Nenshi announced his intention to run on March 11.

“Those numbers show that, in the span of a week, Naheed has more than doubled the size of the Alberta NDP’s membership,” she said.

“Growing our party has always been and will continue to be my first priority. Rather than compete with each other, I want to unite us behind our shared visions and mutual goals,” Pancholi said. “We must move forward to offer a positive alternative to the UCP that Albertans can enthusiastically support in the next election.

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“And I believe that means uniting behind the next leader, Naheed Nenshi.”

Click to play video: 'Rakhi Pancholi drops out of Alberta NDP leadership race to support Nenshi'
Rakhi Pancholi drops out of Alberta NDP leadership race to support Nenshi

In a statement, the Alberta NDP’s executive director said that as of Dec. 31, the party had 16,224 members. Garett Spelliscy said the process for validating new members takes “due diligence” and the party will not be releasing updated membership numbers until sales are complete.

“At this stage, prior to this rigorous process and prior to the vote, it’s impossible to attribute membership sales to any individual leadership candidate,” Spelliscy said.

“On May 12, the balloting deadline, we will share the final number of eligible voters in the leadership race.”

In a statement on social media, Nenshi thanked Pancholi for running a thoughtful, powerful campaign.

“Rakhi, you inspired thousands with your message of optimism and opportunity,” Nenshi said. “Together, we’ll build a better Alberta for all of us.”

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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

Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said Pancholi’s move Tuesday is less about the fact she dropped out, and more about why she dropped out.

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“She realizes there’s no path to victory. Why would she go out, continue campaigning, asking people for money when it’s inevitable that Nenshi is going to win? And that’s why she’s endorsing Nenshi.”

Bratt believes Pancholi had a chance at winning the race.

“I think she was going to describe herself as the number two on each ballot. Number two for Nenshi, number two for Hoffman and try to come up through the middle. We’ve seen people win leadership races like that in the past. I think that was her path to victory.”

Bratt said while Nenshi came into the race late, he was able to mobilize very quickly.

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“If he was not perceived as the frontrunner when he entered, he’s got to be seen as the frontrunner right now.”

Pancholi said the decision to leave the race was not easy.

“I have loved every moment of this journey,” she said. “The Albertans I’ve talked to, the members I’ve shared a coffee with, and the incredible team of people who have given their time, ideas and passion to our campaign have been unforgettable.

“I’m so proud of the race that I’ve run and grateful to the thousands of Albertans who have supported me in the vision of building an Alberta NDP that creates opportunity for all of us — and for all our children.”

Pancholi said she is looking forward to working with Nenshi “as we build this new vision.”

“He has grown our party by bringing tens of thousands of Albertans into the Alberta NDP, broadening our movement significantly,” she said in her statement.

Pancholi announced in February her intention to enter the Alberta NDP leadership race after current leader Rachel Notley announced in January she would be stepping down.

There are now five people vying for the party’s top job: Nenshi, Calgary-Mountain View MLA Kathleen Ganley, Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse and Gil McGowan, the longtime leader of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

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At his official campaign launch in Edmonton Tuesday, McGowan said he was disappointed to hear about Pancholi’s decision.

“I don’t think this leadership race should be a coronation and I also fundamentally disagree with her that this is a done deal,” McGowan said.

“Naheed Nenshi is popular, he’s a celebrity, but what he stands for is unclear.”

McGowan also echoed comments from Pancholi that NDP membership numbers doubled over the span of a week.

“When the campaign started there were about 16,000 party members. There’s about 30,000 party members right now,” he said Tuesday.

McGowan said he is focused on the bigger picture, which is winning the next provincial election.

“The problem is that there are a lot of people who have not voted for the NDP, and that’s the challenge,” he said. “In order to win in 2027, we have to understand why we lost in 2019 and in 2023. And I submit to you that the reason that we lost in 2019 and in 2023 is because we weren’t as effective as the UCP in terms of attracting the votes of working-class Albertans.”

Click to play video: 'How Nenshi’s Alberta NDP leadership bid could jolt province’s politics'
How Nenshi’s Alberta NDP leadership bid could jolt province’s politics

Hoffman issued a statement Tuesday morning saying her “friend Rakhi ran a thoughtful and stylish campaign.”

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“I’ll definitely miss her on the debate stage. I say thank you to Rakhi and her whole team of staff and volunteers for everything they’ve done to build our party,” Hoffman said.

“I have never been more hopeful and optimistic about my leadership campaign. I’ve won five elections in a row by working hard and staying true to my NDP values. I’m incredibly excited by the response we’ve received from members and new members to our message of health, climate and housing.”

In a statement, Ganley thanked Pancholi for her spirited campaign and the amazing ideas she brought forward.

“Rakhi has an incredible group of volunteers around her and they have done so much to grow and strengthen the party,” Ganley said.

Ganley said she’s excited to see two candidates from Calgary (herself and Nenshi) growing the party, adding thousands of people have purchased an NDP membership from her team. She used Tuesday’s news as a chance to ask Albertans to join her team.

“My campaign is focused on building an economy that works for people and a winning team in 2027,” Ganley said. “To Albertans, you deserve a better government and you deserve a voice. My growing team is about giving you that voice.”

Calahoo Stonehouse congratulated Pancholi on running a great campaign.

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“She’s going to be missed but it means for more opportunity for us to demonstrate our platform and to talk about the issues that really matter to Albertans,” she said. “I’m going to stay in the race and keep going until the very end.”

April 22 is the deadline to become a member of the Alberta NDP to vote for the next leader.

Nominees will pay a $20,000 fee at the membership deadline. A final fee of $20,000 will be due at the balloting deadline on May 12.

The new leader will be announced on June 22.

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