NDP leadership candidates make final pitch before voting opens at Edmonton debate

Members can begin voting on who will replace the outgoing Rachel Notley as NDP leader beginning on Monday

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Alberta New Democratic Party leadership candidates made their final pitch to members ahead of voting opening on Monday in a debate that saw few attacks and lots of agreement between the participants.

Candidates Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, Kathleen Ganley, Sarah Hoffman, and Naheed Nenshi took to a stage at the Edmonton Convention Centre Sunday afternoon before a crowd of hundreds.

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The event began with opening statements from candidates, each of whom pitched why they were the right choice to replace the outgoing Rachel Notley.

In response to questions from the audience and moderators, the four rarely engaged with each other and broadly agreed on growing the party, strengthening public institutions, and the need to defeat the governing United Conservative Party (UCP) in the next election.

Federal party links

The provincial party’s links to the federal party, which has been targeted by the UCP, emerged as one area of disagreement.

Currently, members of the Alberta NDP are also automatically members of the party’s federal counterpart.

Alberta NDP leader debate
The Alberta NDP leadership debate at the Edmonton Convention Centre on June 2, 2024.On stage were candidates Kathleen Ganley, Naheed Nenshi, Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse and Sarah Hoffman. Photos by Shaughn Butts-Postmedia Photo by Shaughn Butts /Shaughn Butts

Three-term Calgary mayor Nenshi said the relationship may now be doing more harm than good and could prevent the provincial party from winning.

“If you’re going to be cold-hearted about it, the math says that we cannot succeed unless people who vote for every party federally vote for the NDP provincially,” he said.

“We have to be able to be attractive to folks who may not want to cast their ballot for the federal NDP.”

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Other candidates disagreed, with Ganley and Calahoo Stonehouse saying the decision was best left up to the membership, with Edmonton-Glenora MLA Hoffman saying she was proud of the party’s past.

In another instance of disagreement, Hoffman challenged the other candidates on the issue of rent control, something she has called for, though the allotted time expired before the others could answer.

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Conflict-free debate

The event was otherwise free of conflict, even when candidates had the chance to ask each other questions, with Hoffman asking what Oilers jersey each would wear.

In her answers, Hoffman also emphasized her campaign’s themes of housing, health care, and climate change as well as her experience and prior work within the party.

“What probably sets me apart, frankly, is I don’t think anybody has not knocked on more doors … other than me for the NDP,” she said.

“We’re not just voting to stop bad things, but we’re voting to do great things, and we can do it as proud New Democrats.”

NDP leadership debate
The Alberta NDP leadership debate at the Edmonton Convention Centre on June 2, 2024.On stage were candidates Kathleen Ganley, Naheed Nenshi, Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse and Sarah Hoffman. Photos by Shaughn Butts-Postmedia Photo by Shaughn Butts /Shaughn Butts

Many of Calgary-Mountain View MLA Ganley’s replies echoed her campaign’s emphasis on the economy and building on the party’s growth from the last election.

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“We have to ensure that everyone feels included,” she said.  “We have to balance it against our fundamental values. We cannot lose where we came from.”

Sunday’s was the third and final debate, and first with four candidates after union leader Gil McGowan dropped out of the race three weeks ago after being unable to pay the final instalment of the $60,000 entrance fee.

Ganley thanked McGowan for his efforts and said she shared his need to bring back workers and rural Albertans to the party.

“We don’t talk about the thing that’s most important to them,” she said. “We have to be willing to listen to people to what’s important to them. For most people, it’s that their wages are keeping up with their costs.”

Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Calahoo Stonehouse focused many of her replies on her campaign’s central focus on water, the environment, and sustainable energy.

“We must do better around water. Water is life. Water is prosperity. Prosperity is our future,” she said.

“We have got to do things better in our province. We have got to think about the next seven generations.”

Voting opens

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Voting for the leadership opens Monday for what the party says is a record-high 85,144 members.

They’ll have the option of voting online, by telephone, or by mail. All ballots must be received by noon on June 22 with the party’s new leader being announced later that night in Calgary.

The party is using a ranked preferential ballot system with the winner having to receive more than 50 per cent of all votes.

If no candidate reaches that benchmark on the initial count, the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated. Ballots cast for that candidate will then be re-counted for their next highest preference.

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