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Alberta NDP to announce new party leader in Calgary today

Hundreds of Alberta New Democrats will gather in Calgary today to learn who will be the next party leader.

After more than four months of campaigning, four candidates remained on the ballot to succeed Rachel Notley, who spent nearly a decade at the party’s helm. Voting closes at noon today.

Explosive growth in the number of NDP members surprised the party executive, as well as pundits. Its 15,000 members ballooned to more than 85,000 people who joined in time to cast a ballot for the new leader.

“It shows that there’s still a large contingent of Albertans who are looking for a progressive, big-tent alternative to the big-tent conservative party in the UCP,” said Keith McLaughlin, a partner at New West Public Affairs and a former Notley government chief of staff.

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Alberta NDP members are voting for a new party leader to replace Rachel Notley, who decided to step down.

Vying for the leadership are Edmonton MLA Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, MLA and former Notley government health minister Sarah Hoffman, Calgary MLA and former justice minister Kathleen Ganley and former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, who does not have a seat in the legislature.

There were six contenders until Edmonton MLA Rakhi Pancholi stepped out to support Nenshi. Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan also ended his candidacy in May due to challenges fundraising for the entry fee.

Since May 22, party members have been voting by mail-in ballot, telephone and online. Alberta NDP executive director Garett Spelliscy said as of Tuesday, 73 per cent of eligible voters had cast ballots, mostly online. It was a higher turnout than he expected, he said, and should grow as members submit last-minute votes.

“While we knew that there would be a growth, as there is in any leadership race, this really was unprecedented,” Spelliscy said.

About 80 per cent of the current members were already supporters, by either donating or volunteering to the party in the past, he said. The other 20 per cent are new supporters.

Deron Bilous, a former NDP cabinet minister and senior vice-president, western Canada, with Counsel Public Affairs, says he didn’t anticipate an antagonistic contest. In fact, candidates often found themselves agreeing at the three leadership debates organized by the party.

Where candidates did clash was when Hoffman, who Bilous sees as a party traditionalist, challenged Nenshi’s commitment to the NDP and progressive credentials. Nenshi had been notoriously non-partisan as mayor, and the NDP waived minimum membership time requirements for him to join the race.

Bilous said he doesn’t think applying a purity test to candidates resonated with supporters.

“A lot of members who maybe 10 years ago would have been quite traditionalist are now looking for that opportunity to form government again, and looking at which candidate has best positioned themselves, and has the best chances of defeating a Danielle Smith government,” he said.

Once successful, the next party leader’s priority should be reuniting the NDP’s 38-member caucus after many hived off into different leadership camps, McLaughlin said.

They’ll also need to familiarize themselves with and organize party staff, and expand volunteer and constituency involvement in all 87 provincial ridings, he said.

“How do you turn them into activists?” McLaughlin said. “How do you train the next class of politically active Albertans to help fight back against the UCP in an election?”

Several hundred NDP members are expected to attend workshops at the Hyatt Regency Calgary before the party announces the first-ballot results at 2 p.m. Spelliscy said he hopes the new leader will speak by 3 p.m.

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