Alberta NDP’s base shifted to Calgary. What does that mean for provincial politics?

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

Almost half of the Alberta NDP’s membership live in Calgary, which is a huge shift for Alberta politics, says one political scientist.

According to data provided to Global News by NDP leadership candidate Kathleen Ganley’s campaign, a total of 85,144 people registered for Alberta NDP membership ahead of the leadership race in June.

Of those, 46.09 per cent reside in Calgary, 24.96 per cent reside in Edmonton and 28.7 per cent live outside the two major cities.

Less than one per cent of members were attributed as “unspecified party data,” out-of-province members and potential party duplicates.

Eight of the top 10 ridings with the most membership numbers are located in Calgary, with Ganley’s home riding (Calgary-Mountain View) nabbing the top spot.

“We really can work together and win together in 2027 and that has been the basis for my campaign — that we are stronger as a team,” she said in an emailed statement to Global News on Tuesday.

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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

Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi said he is “thrilled” with the increase in membership for the Alberta New Democrats and is committed to building on that momentum if he wins the leadership race.

“Every day, I meet people in every corner of the province who have joined the party for the first time. They want a better government and a better Alberta,” he said in an emailed statement to Global News.

“And we’ve grown everywhere. Edmonton is many times larger than it was — as are Calgary and communities outside the big cities.”

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

Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said the increase in Calgary’s membership numbers can be attributed to Ganley’s and Nenshi’s campaigns.

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“The race is gathering attention amongst people that have not historically been NDP voters. That’s very important. It’s generating a bit of momentum in the NDP and in ridings where (the party) does not currently have a sitting member,” she told Global News.

“These are remarkable numbers showing strength for the NDP in places where it has not been as apparent historically.”

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

But Williams noted the membership numbers reflect deep concerns about the United Conservative Party in Calgary. She said many voters who label themselves as conservative historically no longer recognize their values being represented by the UCP.

She added that unpopular policies, such as the establishment of a provincial police force, have cost the UCP in terms of support.

“We heard from a lot of voters who have voted conservative all of their lives and don’t recognize the conservatism of the United Conservative Party as aligning with their own. They consider themselves as moderate conservatives or perhaps progressive conservatives,” she said.

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“Preferring a kind of conservatism that’s more moderate, more balanced, more centrist, more respectful of the will of voters … All of those things could be factors that are affecting these numbers.”

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

Calgary will be a battleground in 2027 Alberta election

Williams said Calgary will continue to be a battleground in the next election where politicians from both parties will fight for support for their policies and their party.

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“It could have implications for some of the policies that are being entertained, considered or proposed and possibly repealed by the UCP,” she said.

Both parties will need to appeal to a broader range of voters and incentivize them to vote, which will be key to winning the next provincial election, Williams said.

“If somebody has gone so far to take out a membership and to vote in this leadership election, obviously those folks are much more likely to vote general election. But those numbers are not going to be enough by themselves to win an election,” she noted.

Click to play video: 'Global National: May 28'
Global National: May 28

Williams said there will be a lot of “politicking” from the United Conservative government to try and win back some people who are moving their political support to other parties.

The NDP membership numbers will present a challenge to the UCP, especially to Premier Danielle Smith, whose leadership review is coming up in the fall.

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“This is a relatively young government that has a lot of latitude and is going to be bringing in a lot of money that could help to change people’s minds if they see (the government) spending on their priorities and the government has the money to spend on those priorities. That could be a huge advantage to the United Conservative Party,” she said.

She also said the NDP will be using the boost in membership numbers to be a more effective Opposition in the Alberta legislature and gain more support ahead of the 2027 provincial election.

“In other words, using this as a springboard launch into not just criticisms of what they see the UCP government doing that they don’t think is the right direction, but offering their own alternative vision for the future of the province,” Williams said.

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