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Naheed Nenshi wins NDP leadership
Jim Wells | Postmedia

Purple Is The New Orange. What Does Nenshi’s Win Mean For Alberta?

Naheed Nenshi's leadership win marks a significant shift in Alberta's political landscape, or does it?

Naheed Nenshi’s recent win in the NDP leadership race wasn’t just a victory—it was a landslide. 

With a jaw-dropping 86% of the vote, the former Calgary mayor’s slogan “For Alberta. For All of Us” resonated, drawing thousands to the orange tent and leaving rivals in the dust. 

Now, as Nenshi paints the NDP tent a vibrant purple, the question on everyone’s mind is whether Albertans will embrace this new hue or stick to their familiar blues and oranges come the 2027 election. 

Buckle up, Alberta: the political landscape became much more colourful.

On the first ballot, Nenshi beat out sitting NDP MLAs Kathleen Ganley, Sarah Hoffman, and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse. 

He received 62,746 votes or 86% of members’ votes, while Ganley received 8%, Hoffman 4%, and Calahoo Stonehouse 2%. Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour and Edmonton MLAs David Shepherd and Rakhi Pancholi, withdrew earlier in the race

The Alberta NDP membership grew from 16,000 members to 85,000 members during the leadership race, the vast majority joining to support Nenshi’s bid. 

MLA Pancholi presumably did the math and decided that backing Nenshi for leader was the best option for her. The decision has since paid off, as she was recently appointed Nenshi’s deputy leader.

So, for NDP party members, Nenshi was the leader of choice “for most of us.”

Alberta NDP Leader Naheed Nenshi, flanked by Christina Gray, at left, the new leader of the Opposition, and Rakhi Pancholi, deputy party leader |
Alberta NDP Leader Naheed Nenshi, flanked by Christina Gray, at left, the new leader of the Opposition, and Rakhi Pancholi, deputy party leader | Screenshot of NDP live stream video | albertapolitics.ca

Will Albertans Prefer Purple Over Orange or Blue?

Nenshi has made the Alberta NDP a “big-tent party” that has attracted centrist Liberals and Alberta Party supporters, Greens, and some red Tories

Nenshi brands his approach as  “politics in full sentences,” meaning mutual, two-way dialogue with voters. 

Having expanded the NDP tent and redecorated it purple, the question is: will Nenshi be the choice for the rest of Alberta during the next election in October 2027?

He will be tested on this approach over the next three years as he manages tensions within his party’s uneasy big-tent alliance.But make no mistake, it’s Nenshi’s party now.

Former NDP leader Rachel Notley congratulates Naheed Nenshi
Former NDP leader Rachel Notley congratulates Naheed Nenshi | CBC News

Big on Popularity, Small on Policy? 

Some critics, including a few NDP MLAs, are skeptical about Nenshi’s policy plans. 

His campaign website was written in vague, politician-speaking terms, with keywords and statements like “a more affordable Alberta with a government focused on making it easier for families not only to make ends meet but to thrive.” 

Many critics question what that means in concrete terms.

The cynics on the political left are pessimistic about Nenshi and the changes (if any) he will make to Alberta. 

They question whether a Premier Nenshi would address anything controversial or make any unpopular but necessary changes. 

Nenshi’s plan to reverse Premier Smith’s most unpopular and silly shenanigans, such as CPP, provincial police, anti-trans legislation, and healthcare privatization, would bring Alberta back to what exactly? 

The status quo?

Jim Storrie of The Progress Report summed it up by saying, “Alberta’s NDP really is what it says on the tin: a slightly left-of-centre coalition that doesn’t want much more than reliable public services, a government that doesn’t look and act like fools, and a bit less of that old-time bigotry than the other guys.”

One of Nenshi’s first tweets was to signal his support for Shell’s two carbon capture and storage projects in Alberta. The backlash was swift from renewable energy experts, environmentalists, and supporters who bemoaned greenwashing and voter remorse.

Haters on the political right are bringing out their arsenal of insults and criticisms, such as the nickname “Spendshi” given him during his third term as Calgary’s mayor. 

Expensive proposals like the failed bid for the Olympics 2026 and pushing forward on the Green Line, a megaproject to expand transit to the deep southeast of the city, were one too many for Calgary’s business community and fiscal conservatives.

Nenshi’s June 26 X post that received backlash | @nenshi | X
Nenshi’s June 26 X post that received backlash | @nenshi | X

A Threat to Danielle Smith?

However, for most NDP voters, the main question of the leadership race was not about experience, record, policy, or communication skills; it was about who could beat Danielle Smith

Nenshi was the best person to take on Smith for many NDP members. 

These pragmatists signalled their unity by handing Nenshi a decisive mandate. They are energized and confident of an electoral win in 2027.

The UCP are worried. They should be. 

Since the election, Smith’s policies–from the Sovereignty Act to undermining Municipal governments–have consistently appealed to far-right voters. She is trying to reverse the trend of the last four conservative Alberta Premiers being forced out by the right flank of their party before their first term was completed. 

This has put Smith in opposition to two in three Albertans on almost every one of her major policies. 

That creates a lot of room for an opponent to outflank her in the centre. 

Nenshi is well-positioned to do just that. 

In a huge unreleased 11,000-person survey last year, Nenshi had a +25 percent Net Approval Rating, while Smith’s was -21 percent.  Nenshi’s Approval Rating was higher than Smith’s in 120 of 136 demographic categories. 

Nenshi doesn’t yet have a seat in the Legislature, and the election will not be until October 2027.

On the Defence

But the UCP is going on the defence now.

In politics, the best defence is a good offence, so the governing party wasted no time planning ads for TV, radio, social media, and mailouts.

Jason Nixon's X post about Nenshi
Jason Nixon’s comments about Nenshi | @JasonNixonAB | X

Albertans will soon be swamped with a series of television, radio, and online ads “starkly contrasting the tax-and-spend record of Nenshi with the common-sense leadership of Smith,” the UCP said in a statement after Nenshi’s win.

Five ads are already up and running on the UCP’s YouTube channel.

MLAs like Jason Nixon are already amplifying this messaging on X, saying that “the consequences to the whole province of getting somebody like Premier Nenshi would make Rachel Notley’s damage look like small potatoes.”

Talk about early campaigning for the next election over three years away! 

To his credit, Nenshi was out on X right away, responding to the criticism. He said he would put up his record and public service against Smith’s “any day of the week and twice on Sundays.”

So, what can we expect from the clash of former University of Calgary classmates and Gen X career politicians over the next three years? 

A free lesson in political communications. 

Perhaps someone can recommend Trump and Biden take notes.

At least these two can debate.

So expect more political drama and theatre. 

More than anything, the next 3 years are guaranteed to be entertaining. So make some popcorn and enjoy the ride! 

Screen capture of one of the UCP ads connecting Nenshi with Trudeau and suggesting Nenshi is a closet Liberal doing Trudeau’s mandate |
Screen capture of one of the UCP ads connecting Nenshi with Trudeau and suggesting Nenshi is a closet Liberal doing Trudeau’s mandate | United Conservative Party | YouTube

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