Nenshi’s victory shows NDP is united and ready for a fight

It’s clear that he has a large and unified party behind him. Everyone — especially the UCP — will be waiting to see what he does with that support.

To almost very few people’s surprise, Naheed Nenshi won the Alberta New Democratic Party‘s (NDP) leadership race on June 22. However, what was surprising was the number of votes he got. Nenshi won the NDP leadership with 62,746 votes. Kathleen Ganley had the next closest number — if you can even call it close — with 5,899 votes.

Leaders of political parties don’t typically win with such an overwhelming majority. In 2022, Premier Danielle Smith only won the United Conservative Party’s leadership race on the sixth ballot. Nenshi has kicked off his own provincial legacy with a show of unity and large numbers.

It wasn’t Nenshi’s shiny policies that won him the leadership race. His campaign actually lacked clear policies, especially in comparison to Ganley’s or Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse‘s. It was his personality and his relative likability as former mayor of Calgary that got him those votes.

Much of his campaign was setting himself up as the person who could oust Smith from the premier’s office. And the show of numbers — in party memberships and the votes for Nenshi — seem to indicate he might very well be successful in that.

In a lot of ways, Nenshi is still finding his footing in the NDP and provincial politics. His campaign commitments seemed to be heavy on learning and listening rather than leading with ideas. But that might be what the NDP needs — someone to listen carefully and show that the NDP can be Albertan’s party.

One of those changes might be severing ties with the federal NDP. While Nenshi and all other candidates said it would be a decision left up to the whole party, he seems to be the most committed to having that conversation. Former Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley spoke out against the idea, which might signal possible division within the party on the issue. Whether Nenshi would be able to keep the party as united as they seem to be right now through that decision will be interesting to see.

But Nenshi is already using that unity to start campaigning. His acceptance speech was more of a campaign speech, no longer for the leadership race but the provincial election. Despite it being three years away, Nenshi is clearly in campaign mode. 

And he probably will be doing more direct campaigning soon to win a seat in the legislature. As a newcomer to the party and to provincial politics, Nenshi doesn’t have a seat with the caucus he’s now leading. But with Shannon Phillips stepping down from her seat on July 1, Nenshi could try to fill it. 

While Nenshi hasn’t confirmed his bid for the seat yet, it’s probably the best thing Nenshi can do following his big win. His momentum from the leadership race could definitely work to his advantage in winning a seat in the legislature. But the real test will be whether or not he can sustain the excitement and support into 2027.

A desire to grow the party even more was a big part of Nenshi’s campaign. He talked about his own decision to join the NDP as a realization that NDP values were his values. And he’s determined to show other Albertans that too. Notley left Nenshi with some pretty big shoes to fill, but he’s already shown that he’s up for the challenge.

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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