NDP leadership candidates still need to set themselves apart

The first Alberta NDP leadership debate did nothing to help differentiate candidates from each other.

Candidates tend to get vicious during political debates, causing their ideas to get lost beneath jabs and shouting. However, the Alberta New Democratic Party’s (NDP) first leadership debate of 2024 was relatively civil. On April 25, Kathleen Ganley, Sarah Hoffman, Gil McGowan, Naheed Nenshi, and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse took the stage in Lethbridge to answer questions and debate each other’s ideas. But rather than bringing a variety of perspectives and ideas to the debate, each candidate sounded like a broken record. This was each candidates’ opportunity to show why they, opposed to the other candidates, have the best vision for the party. But it felt like they were all the same.

During the debate, Nenshi said that all the candidates were starting to sound like each other, and he wasn’t exaggerating. There was little disagreement among candidates, or unique ideas to set them apart from each other. Aside from a few pointed comments, candidates stayed focused on their ideas rather than cutting each other down. But, it was difficult for any candidate to really stand out from the others when their ideas were all so similar. 

Many people assumed Nenshi, the former mayor of Calgary, was the obvious front-runner in the race. But this wasn’t so obvious during the debate. Nenshi came into the race as someone without previous experience with the NDP, having stated his aversion to partisan politics. While he could have brought a fresh perspective as the outsider, he didn’t and it showed. It felt like Nenshi was tip-toeing around the fact that he’s an outsider.

Instead, Nenshi spent almost as much — if not more — time bashing Premier Danielle Smith as he did talking about his vision for the NDP. If his goal was to prove he’s the right leader for the NDP, he failed to deliver. Nenshi’s initial appeal was that he could bring fresh ideas to the party. Instead, he was just another candidate on the stage. 

But none of the other candidates proved that they’re the right leader for the NDP either. There were few new ideas — just the same ones being repeated by every candidate. While the civility and support for each other was nice to see — as opposed to infighting — it didn’t serve any of them. Candidates should’ve used the debate to set themselves apart from the others, but instead they all blurred together. 

All candidates agreed that renewables are an important part of our economy. However, Hoffman and Nenshi disagreed on whether or not the United Conservative Party’s (UCP) new rules for wind and solar developments are a ban. Hoffman was adamant that they are functionally a ban, and Ganley backed her up. Nenshi however, disagreed with labeling the policies as a ban. This was the only point of disagreement among candidates on this issue. Otherwise, all the candidates are intent on bringing back renewable energy to Alberta as a way to grow our economy. But the candidates didn’t make clear who would be the best to do this.

Connecting with and supporting small towns and rural communities was another topic of discussion. McGowan was adamant from his opening statement that rural communities and working-class Albertans need to be welcomed into the party. Initially, this point set McGowan apart, but he lost his edge once other candidates started reiterating the sentiment. It’s no surprise that all candidates acknowledged this, considering that the NDP has struggled to connect with rural voters.

However, Stonehouse was able to get specific about water rights, which affect rural Albertans — especially farmers. She had the strongest grasp on this issue than any other candidate, repeatedly pointing to specific policies to address it. The topic came up multiple times throughout the debate and other candidates brought similar ideas to the table. But Stonehouse was the clearest on her solutions. In fact, the issue united all aspects of her platform, across climate change, the economy, and Indigenous communities. It made Stonehouse stand out, but it’s not enough. However, if other candidates brought unique ideas and strong policy like Stonehouse did, it would have been a much more interesting debate.

Although they all had very similar ideas, Ganley, Nenshi, and Hoffman are likely the front-runners. The three are well-liked and have well-rounded platforms and ideas — although, Nenshi could benefit from clearer policy. Ultimately, none of them came out ahead of the other. At this point, it seems to be a race of likeability rather than good, unique ideas and policy. If candidates want to get ahead in the race, they need to start setting themselves apart.

Leah Hennig

Leah is the 2024-25 Opinion Editor at The Gateway. She is in her first year studying English and media studies. In her spare time, she can be found reading, painting, and missing her dog while drinking too much coffee.

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