More than 85,000 people eligible to vote in Alberta NDP leadership race; McGowan bows out

Click to play video: 'Gil McGowan bows out of Alberta NDP leadership race'
Gil McGowan bows out of Alberta NDP leadership race
Alberta NDP leadership candidate Gil McGowan is stepping down from the race, leaving just four candidates. The race is attracting thousands of new party members and creating questions surrounding the future direction of the party. Morgan Black reports – May 13, 2024

The Alberta NDP’s membership has increased by more than five times since December. The announcement comes as one of the people vying for the party’s leadership makes the decision to bow out of the race.

On Sunday evening, the party revealed that 85,144 members will be eligible to vote in the Alberta NDP leadership race, which is slated for June.

That number is a huge jump from the 16,224 members the party had as of Dec. 31, 2023.

“This leadership race is an historic moment for the Alberta NDP. Voters from all walks of life and all regions of the province joined the Alberta NDP because they are excited to support our party in forming the next government,” said Amanda Freistadt, chief returning officer for the Alberta NDP.

“The largest number of NDP members in Alberta’s history will be eligible to vote. We look forward to a high voter turnout given the energy and enthusiasm the race has attracted.”

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NDP leadership hopeful Sarah Hoffman said the increase in membership is great news.

“Many of us have been working to build this party for decades and we’re excited that so many people made it official and bought a membership,” she said from the legislature Monday.

Click to play video: 'NDP leadership hopefuls to take part in Calgary debate'
NDP leadership hopefuls to take part in Calgary debate

Fellow candidate Kathleen Ganley said in a statement that her riding of Calgary-Mountain View has more than 3,500 NDP members.

“This is incredible,” she said of the membership numbers. “Team Ganley continues to grow across Alberta as we put forward real, concrete ideas that speak to the economic challenges facing people.”

Political scientist Lori Williams said the jump in membership is very significant, but added it’s only the beginning.

“The thing that has to be done now is they have to build on this and try to grow that base even more – reach out to Albertans who are looking for an appealing alternative,” Williams said.

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“That can be folks on the left, folks in the centre, small c conservatives, folks who no longer recognize the conservatism in the United Conservative Party. All of those folks have an opportunity here to look at the NDP and the NDP has an opportunity to appeal to them as a credible alternative.”

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

The party began looking for a new leader after Rachel Notley announced in January she would be stepping down from the role.

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Up until Monday morning there were five people vying to become the party’s leader: former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, Calgary-Mountain View MLA Kathleen Ganley, Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse and Alberta Federation of Labour leader Gil McGowan.

In a news release Monday, McGowan announced he “made the hard decision” to suspend his leadership campaign. He said paying the final installment of the $60,000 entry fee “has proven too much for me.”

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“You can rest assured that I will continue to fight the UCP’s unacceptable agenda both now and in the next election,” McGowan said. “I just won’t be doing it as party leader.

“My central message in this campaign has been that, in order to win, we have to reach out to people outside of our tent — in particular, working Albertans with high school, college and trades educations (both inside and outside the two big cities) who, polls show, are supporting the UCP over the NDP.

“I hope that whoever wins this race will take my insight about workers being the ‘missing piece’ and use it as part of a strategy to beat the UCP and fix the things that are broken in Alberta — so that our province can truly live up to its potential.”

Williams said she wasn’t surprised to hear McGowan was dropping out, given he was appealing for funds during Saturday’s leadership race debate in Calgary. She believes McGowan dropping out might have had a bigger impact if he had endorsed another candidate.

“The biggest impact of Gil McGowan’s participation in the race is to point out, ‘Look, working Albertans are currently voting for or supporting the UCP.’ So one of the challenges for the NDP is to reach out and try to broaden their tent by including those workers that are currently supportive of the UCP. And I think that’s a really important point that the NDP can really learn from and try to build their base using that information.”

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Hoffman said she spoke to McGowan briefly Monday morning.

“I’m sure it’s a tough day for him and for his campaign, but I am very grateful for what he has brought as another kid who grew up in rural northern Alberta. We definitely shared a lot of those stories.”

Hoffman said her focus remains on her campaign, her policies and defeating the UCP in the next provincial election.

“We can’t run the same campaign we ran a year ago and expect different results with a different leader. If it’s the same campaign – telling everyone how awful Danielle Smith is without telling people what we’re going to do to make their lives better – we can’t expect different results,” Hoffman said.

Ganley is also focused on her efforts to become the NDP’s next leader and form the next government.

“To the thousands and thousands of undecided Alberta New Democrats out there, I am offering a different kind of leadership. Make no mistake — I will make the case against Danielle Smith, but I am also the leader to make the case for us,” she said in a statement.

“My offer to you is this: let’s do this together. Let’s talk and share and build a party that reflects us all. When we work together that is how we win together.”

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Williams said in order to win the next provincial election in 2027, the next NDP leader will have to provide Albertans with a better vision for the future, and hold the current government’s feet to the fire on its policies and actions.

“They need to hear from Albertans and respond to what it is Albertans are concerned about,” Williams said. “They have to criticize current government actions, policies, their vision for the future. But they’ve also got to provide a credible alternative. They have to look like a government in waiting. They’ve got to present a more appealing alternative to the current government, which can be a big challenge.”

Ballots and voting information for the leadership race will be mailed to members via Canada Post at the end of May. Voting members can vote online, by telephone or by returning their ballot in the mail. Voting opens on June 3 and all ballots must be received by 12 p.m. on June 22.

The party will announce the new leader in Calgary on the afternoon of June 22.

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