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We asked: What makes each NDP candidate unique?

Each candidate in the NDP leadership spoke about the state of the race, their campaign, and what they hoped to take away from their stops in rural Alberta
(L-R) Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, Sarah Hoffman, Naheed Nenshi and Kathleen Ganley brought NDP supporters into Athabasca from all across the northeast May 15.

The Alberta NDP are in the last month of a leadership race to replace former leader Rachel Notley, and the remaining four candidates are touring the province in forums and debates. 

Naheed Nenshi, Sarah Hoffman, Kathleen Ganley and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse were in Athabasca May 15 and all four took time to talk about the state of the race, what they were hoping to learn about rural Alberta, and what experience they bring to the table as a potential leader.

Naheed Nenshi

The former mayor of Calgary was the last candidate to enter the race, officially putting his name forward March 11. Since entering the race, Nenshi has referred to a “progressive movement” that he said has turned the race into a success.

“It’s going incredibly well for all of us. I think we’ve tapped into a momentum in Alberta, a movement, that I was not expecting to tap into to this extent,” he said. “A lot of Albertans are getting very excited about the potential for change, and the potential for a more positive view of Alberta.”

Coming into Athabasca, Nenshi said he was open to learning from and listening to the people that lived in northeast Alberta.

“I know that there are a lot of general issues that all Albertans are concerned about that are hitting people in smaller communities pretty hard: we’re seeing ER closures, obstetrics ward closures, a real collapse in some ways of our health care system,” said Nenshi, who added an anecdote about the struggles rural communities are facing with schools as well.

“To me, that summarizes a real issue: how do we attract and retain people to live in smaller communities and provide equivalent services so that regardless of where you live in Alberta, you have the ability to access great services and have a great life.”

Nenshi said time in Calgary gave him ample experience running complex organizations — he pointed out that by population, Calgary is bigger than six of Canada's provinces and is a similar size to Manitoba. Outside of the administrative side, he said the smaller scale focus gave him a strong perspective to bring to provincial politics.

“One of the things that really helps me as a former municipal politician is that, when you’re the mayor, you’re focused directly on people, and the services that they need every day,” he said. “I hope that I would never lose that as I go into provincial politics.”

Sarah Hoffman

Hoffman is the candidate most able to give Nenshi a run for his money when it comes to administrative experience. The small-town-girl from Kinuso — a hamlet 48 km west of Slave Lake — has been an MLA for Edmonton-Glenora since 2015, and served as the health minister and deputy premier from 2015 to 2019.

“It’s been a very exciting race … Getting a chance to make my case to the more than 80,000 members we now have about why our best shot at winning a general election is choosing me as a leader is the goal for the next month,” said Hoffman.

Her three key pillars have been health care, climate, and housing, all issues that have come up in the northern regions of the province in recent years.

“Health care is about all of us being well, but it’s also about rural sustainability; if you’re aging and your doctor isn’t going to continue with you as a patient, maybe they’re leaving the province or retiring, a lot of people move away to the larger centres,” said Hoffman. “We want to make sure you can have great quality public health care right here in Athabasca and in other communities around the province.”

A big challenge for the NDP moving into the 2027 election will be bridging the gap between rural and urban voters. Despite the ten-fold increase in membership referenced by Nenshi, most of those gains have occurred in urban centres, with the party only having 384 registered members in Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock. Hoffman said her experience growing up in rural Alberta makes her uniquely suited to approach that problem.

“I think a leader who is unafraid to spend time in rural Alberta, who is excited to spend time in rural Alberta, is keen to listen, and will propose ideas that will change people’s lives for the better is how we win the next election,” said Hoffman.

Kathleen Ganley

Ganley is the other Calgary representative in the race — first elected in 2015 in Calgary-Buffalo, she was then re-elected in Calgary-Mountainview in 2019 and 2023. Like Hoffman, she served in Notley’s cabinet where she was the Minister of Justice and Alberta’s Solicitor General.

Part of Ganley’s campaign has taken on some messaging from former candidate and labour leader Gil McGowan, who suspended his campaign May 13 after he was unable to raise the remainder of the $60,000 fee.

“It’s my view that as a political party, when you lose people that isn’t the fault of the people it’s the fault of the party; you should look within to find the solution to the problem,” said Ganley, crediting McGowan for bringing it up during the campaign. “Sometimes we don’t put our best foot forward in terms of talking to people where they live, talking about the issues that are important to them.

“Sometimes we lean into our worst instincts and tell people what they should care about.”

Ganley said the top issues she heard throughout her campaign were worries about being unable to pay a mortgage or put food on the table.

“That’s what my campaign is mostly about, it's focused on costs and on wages,” she added. “People are looking around them and realizing they can’t build the life their parents were able to build with the same job.”

Ganley said the party could stand to apply those ideas to rural Alberta, noting it was important to, “be humble, and be willing to listen to what’s important to people instead of telling them what to care about.”

Ganley’s professional background is in law, where she practised as a union-side labour lawyer before she was first elected. More importantly, she also has a six-year-old daughter who’s been a driving force behind Ganley’s efforts to improve the province she calls home.

“I want my daughter to have the same opportunities I had growing up here and that is the world I’m trying to build,” said Ganley. “Right now, under the UCP, that isn’t the world we’re building … Young people don’t have the same opportunity and worse, they don’t have the same hope. They don’t think they’ll ever own a house, they don’t see their future careers here in Alberta, and that isn’t the world I want to build.”

Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse

Rounding out the group is Calahoo Stonehouse, a first-term MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford. Prior to entering politics, Stonehouse was the executive director for the Yellowhead Indigenous Education Foundation, and was the producer and broadcaster of an Indigenous radio program, Acimowin.

Despite being regarded as a bit of a dark horse in the race, Calahoo Stonehouse managed to meet the fundraising requirements that forced McGowan to step back, and she’s used her time on stage to talk about the importance of the environment, science, and water as the province looks to the future.

“Folks who live on the land, the ranchers and the farmers, they see the cracks on the land, they see how dry it is,” said Stonehouse during an interview after the May 15 event. “It’s springtime, we should be jumping puddles and we’re not.”

Stonehouse’s fundraising has been grassroots through and through — during the event in Athabasca, she shared a story about an outpouring of support that convinced her to put her name forward, and the support continued once she did.

“It’s been so moving and so humbling, when I raised the $60,000, it was done by hundreds of $10, $5, I had a gentleman on AISH who every paycheque donated $3.25. Albertans from across the province donated what they could and because of that I’m here,” she said.

The increased fee was a slightly controversial decision. McGowan said it was an unnecessarily high barrier which gave an advantage to supporters with deeper pockets, but Stonehouse said there were reasons it had to be in place as well.

“It’s important that we’re able to fundraise for the party, that we can demonstrate our ability to raise money. It costs money to run a campaign, it costs money for the ballots, for the counters, for events like this,” said Stonehouse. “As a leader it’s our responsibility to show that we can raise money for the party.”

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