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Naheed Nenshi makes St. Albert campaign stop

The NDP frontrunner criticized the UCP's willingness to embrace far right voters
Alberta NDP leadership candidate and former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks with party members at the St. Albert Curling Club.

Former Calgary mayor and NDP leadership frontrunner Naheed Nenshi on Sunday spoke with local NDP party members at the St. Albert Curling Club, where he took aim at Premier Danielle Smith's willingness to pander to forces on the far right.

Speaking to a roughly 100-member audience, Nenshi described how the party’s far-right opposition — whom he clarified was not the UCP — has energized a new block of voters.

“They’ve taken those folks who've always felt isolated, they always had these feelings, but they thought that none of their neighbours agreed, and they knew it wasn't polite, or wasn't kind to talk about the way they feel in public” he said, referencing the “f—k Trudeau” slogan that has become a unifying symbol for some groups on the right.

“What people on the right have done very effectively is they brought these people into social groups. It made them feel like they have friends; they feel more comfortable in expressing their opinions.”

Nenshi said that there has been a deliberate effort from the fringes of the country’s right wing to radicalize people, especially young men, who have in the past been disillusioned or disinterested in politics and turn them into active voters.

“And the premier knows that,” he said. “That's precisely why she panders to that base.”

He called this block of angry voters the “new seniors” – people who will reliably turn out to vote, but who are not a majority.

“Let's say three years ago, you asked your neighbours, ‘What do you think about trans people?’” he said. “You’d probably get a shrug … now we've got this massive backlash against our trans neighbours. That wasn’t by accident … This was all designed.”

“That is what we’re facing,” he said.

Recent legislation that gives cabinet more power over municipalities has been the UCP’s “biggest mistake,” Nenshi said. He said that the move demonstrates how the party has directed its anger towards not just Ottawa, but also Albertans and warned that the premier’s actions show she’s more concerned with consolidating power than helping the province.  

He also spoke of past Progressive Conservative Premier Ralph Klein.

“I can tell you with some certainty that Ralph Klein would not only be uncomfortable in this version of the Conservative party, he'd actually be angry,” he said.

Speaking with the Gazette, Nenshi said that not all voters will be “looking for a home with people who may think differently from them.”

“That’s okay,” he said. “That’s democracy. But I think the vast majority of Albertans want the same things.”

If elected premier in 2027, he said he would work to undo UCP legislation.

“I was very critical of Jason Kenney when he first became premier because he seemed to take the zeal and glee in what he called the ‘summer of repeal,’” Nenshi told the audience. “I always thought to myself, ‘If, God help me, I’m in that position, I won’t be such a jerk about it.’  But there's a lot of stuff we're going to have to repeal. In fact, it may be easier to make a list of the things that we won't have to repeal.”

Nenshi suggested to the Gazette that infrastructure funding, which has been a priority for many municipalities, including St. Albert, would flow more freely from the province under his leadership.

“Even though it's not sexy, and no one wants to go to the ribbon cutting of a new sewage pipe, these things have to get built,” he said. “And there is no way on earth that local governments can fund those things just through the property tax.”

Kathy Hutchinson, an attendee and party member, said she voted for Nenshi already, and made her decision when she heard him speak for the first time earlier in the race.

“The first time I heard him speak I thought of Peter Lougheed,” she said, comparing Nenshi’s skill at persuasion with the past Alberta premier.

She felt that the province has been getting “a bad name,” an issue she hopes a future NDP leader could mend.

Alberta’s NDP membership grew to roughly 85,000 members from 16,000 members over the past five months.

Voting for the NDP leadership race commenced on June 5 and will end June 22.

About the Author: Riley Tjosvold

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