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The NDP Leadership Race: Will the Snails Outpace the Roadrunner?

In the race to replace Rachel Notley as leader of the NDP, six candidates are in the running, but one has a serious head start
Rachel Notley |
Rachel Notley |

You can be forgiven if you didn’t know about the leadership race to replace NDP leader and former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Notley, who announced her resignation as leader in January, will be stepping down after a new leader is elected in June.

There was little press coverage or public excitement about the candidates involved until former three-time Calgary Mayor and minor Canadian celebrity, Naheed Nenshi threw his hat into the ring.

With Nenshi’s announcement, the sign-ups for NDP memberships have been so brisk that, in Nenshi’s words, “we may have broken the servers.” In fact, within one week of Nenshi announcing his run at the leadership, the NDP party membership size has doubled!

Nenshi has taken an early lead in the leadership race, but it remains to be seen if this homegrown ‘roadrunner’ can maintain his pace ahead of the ‘snails’ who started more slowly.

With all the contestants confirmed, it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce the candidates running to replace Notley as the new  NDP leader.

The Notley Legacy

Rachel Notley first won her position in the provincial legislature as an NDP MLA in 2008. 

From there, she climbed to the role of NDP leader in 2014.

Notley guided the party through three electoral contests during her tenure, including a term as Premier from 2015 to 2019.

Her leadership as Premier were marked by strength and effectiveness, setting a high standard for her successors.

The NDP now has a slate of leadership candidates that could challenge Danielle Smith in 2027 for leadership of the province. 

Let’s take a closer look at each in turn.

Kathleen Teresa Ganley | X
Kathleen Teresa Ganley | X

Kathleen Ganley

Kathleen Teresa Ganley, born in Edmonton, is a lawyer and politician who has called Calgary home since she was two.

She has degrees in Psychology, Philosophy, and Law from the University of Calgary.

She has been elected three times to the provincial legislature, in 2015, 2019, and 2023, all as an NDP MLA.

Ganley was Alberta’s Minister of Justice and Solicitor General from 2015 to 2019 during Rachel Notley’s tenure as Premier.

In the 2023 general election, Ganley earned 16,516 votes from her riding of Calgary-Mountain View — the most of any Alberta NDP MLA.

Since October 2020, Ganley has served as the Official Opposition Critic for Energy.

Ganley is popular within the NDP and won many endorsements for her leadership campaign.

Some of the policies that Ganley is championing include increasing the minimum wage, ending price-gouging on electric bills, protecting Albertans’ pensions, dealing with orphaned and abandoned wells, making fair rules for renewable projects, banning open-pit coal mines, investing in education, and strengthening healthcare.

Sarah Hoffman | X
Sarah Hoffman | X

Sarah Hoffman

Sarah grew up three hours north of Edmonton in the small town of Kinuso, near Lesser Slave Lake. Her parents were teachers.

Hoffman earned bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics, Religion and Education, and a Master’s Degree in Education Policy.

In 2010, she ran for the Edmonton Public School Board and defeated a well-known incumbent trustee, with seven in ten of the votes cast. 

In 2015, Hoffman won the Edmonton-Glenora riding for the Alberta NDP. It was the first time an NPD candidate had won in the riding. Then-Premier Rachel Notley named her Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

Sarah was re-elected as an NDP MLA in 2019 and 2023 and served as Deputy Leader of the Alberta NDP throughout that time.

Hoffman has many endorsements from various community and municipal leaders as well as fellow politicians.

Hoffman is running on three key platform issues: rebuilding publicly funded and delivered health care, providing effective climate solutions, and fixing the housing crisis.

Hoffman’s official campaign video has been released.

Gil McGowan | Bryan Eneas | CBC
Gil McGowan | Bryan Eneas | CBC

Gil McGowan

McGowan was born and raised in Alberta and, as a kid, lived on a small family farm between Westlock and Athabasca.

He has a BA in History from the University of Alberta and a Masters in Journalism from Carleton University.

A long-time political and labour movement activist, Gil McGowan was elected President of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) in 2005 and still holds that position. 

He previously worked for ten years as the AFL’s Communications Director, where he won numerous national communications awards. McGown was also the former editor and assistant editor of the AFL’s award-winning newspaper, Labour News.

McGowan is a skilled activist. As part of his campaign work for Friends of Medicare, he organized some of the largest rallies in Alberta’s history.

Before joining AFL, McGowan was a journalist for the Canadian Press and the Edmonton Journal. 

McGowan announced his leadership candidacy earlier this month on social media but added that he also has COVID-19 and has postponed his campaign launch event, website and public appearances until he has recovered.

No policies have been announced, but based on his past activism, healthcare, wages, workers’ rights, and racial equity are sure to play a big role.

Naheed Neshi |
Naheed Neshi |

Naheed Nenshi

Nenshi probably needs little introduction because he became an international media darling for his inspirational response to the disastrous flood in Calgary in 2013.

He was well respected as a three-term Mayor of Calgary for 11 years.

Naheed Nenshi was born in Toronto in 1972 but was raised in Calgary and Red Deer.

Nenshie received his Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Calgary in 1993 and completed a Master of Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy of Government at Harvard University in 1998.

Nenshi had his own consulting company, which advised non-profit and public sector organizations on business matters, and he was also an instructor in the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University and wrote municipal affairs articles for the Calgary Herald.

Nenshi ran unsuccessfully for Calgary City Council in 2004 but returned in 2010 for a successful run at the mayorship. 

Nenshi relied heavily on social media to ‘hyper-engage’ voters and became the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city. He was reelected again in 2013 and 2017 but did not seek re-election in 2021.

Nenshi was not previously a member of the NDP but publicly ‘lent his vote’ to Rachel Notley in the 2023 general election.

Nenshi’s platform includes restoring public education, protecting and improving public healthcare, strengthening the economy and increasing prosperity, making life more affordable, safeguarding seniors and the most vulnerable, and addressing climate change.

Nenshi’s official campaign video has been released.

Rakhi Pancholi |
Rakhi Pancholi |

Rakhi Pancholi

UPDATE: As of March 26, Rakhi Pancholi has withdrawn from the race and has thrown her support behind Naheed Nenshi.

Rakhi Pancholi, born to Tanzanian and Indian parents, moved to Alberta with her family at the age of four. She grew up in south Edmonton, where she attended Strathcona High School.

Pancholi completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta, majoring in History and Political Science. 

She studied law at the University of Toronto, focusing on Constitutional Law.

She began her legal career at a prestigious Bay Street firm, leading to almost a decade of experience in senior advisory roles for the Government of Alberta in the ministries of Education and Justice.

Before running for office, she also worked in private practice as a senior lawyer at a major Alberta law firm, where she specialized in labour and employment law.

In 2019, Pancholi entered politics and was elected as an NDP MLA  for Edmonton-Whitemud, and in 2023, she won her seat again with 60% of the vote.

As the Official Opposition Critic for Education and a lawyer with experience in the areas of education, labour, and employment. Rakhi also serves as the Official Opposition Public Accounts Chair,

Pancholi’s platform includes protecting and enhancing public health care, creating a made-in-Alberta climate action plan, becoming global sustainable energy leaders, having the best education system in the country, addressing the housing crisis, and developing inclusive social policies.

Pancholi’s official campaign video has been released.  

Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse | Instagram
Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse | Instagram

Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse

Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse is Cree and Mohawk from Michel First Nation, where she served on the band council. 

She has served as Executive Director of the Yellowhead Indigenous Education Foundation and as a member of the Edmonton Police Commission, where she actively addressed racism and engaged in social innovation, conflict mediation, and Aboriginal health initiatives.

Stonehouse was also the founder of Miyo-Pimatisiwin Productions and was a producer and broadcaster of Acimowin, an award-winning Indigenous radio program.

Stonehouse’s journey involved learning from elders, earning an undergraduate degree in Native Studies from the University of Alberta and pursuing a master’s degree with a focus on water security with the Faculty of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta.

She was elected as an NDP MLA in 2023, representing Edmonton-Rutherford. 

Stonehouse’s platform includes policies on inclusivity, water rights, energy diversification, collaboration and community connection. 

Stonehouse’s official campaign video has been released.

The Race

As the leadership candidates unveil their plans and policies, NDP members are presented with a diverse and impressive array of choices. 

While Nenshi brings a combination of star appeal and experience in municipal politics, his competitors boast significant achievements, including many with experience in provincial governments. 

Nenshi’s entry into the race has not only heightened his profile but also attracted numerous new members to the NDP, increasing visibility for all participants. 

Traditionally, roadrunners are known for their quick sprints rather than their endurance. 

This raises the question: Does Nenshi possess the endurance necessary to secure the NDP leadership in the long run, or will the ‘snails,’ with their steady and prolonged efforts within the party, ultimately take the lead? 

The outcome will remain uncertain until late June.

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