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What’s next for the Alberta NDP?

As Rachel Notley’s term as Alberta NDP leader draws to a close, political scientists are weighing in on what this means for the party moving forward.

Notley announced her intention to step down from the position on Tuesday afternoon, saying she’ll stay on until there is a leadership race and a new leader is chosen. She told reporters she will support the new leader and is “absolutely not” pursuing a role in federal politics.

Notley was also premier of Alberta from 2015 to 2019. She said her biggest political accomplishment was changing the political landscape in Alberta and showing Albertans they had options.

However, she has not decided how long she’ll stay on as MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona. Her term ends in 2027.

“Having considered what I believe to be the best interests of our party, our caucus, as well as my preferences, I am here today to announce that I will not be leading Alberta’s NDP into the next election,” she said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

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Nancy Janovicek, Alberta NDP president, said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the party will be holding a provincial council meeting on Jan. 27 in Red Deer to set a timeline for the upcoming leadership race. Campaigning will not begin until the campaign period has been set by the party and Elections Alberta has been notified.

“On a personal note, I want to express my gratitude to Rachel for her leadership over the last decade. Rachel has forever changed the political landscape in this province,” Janovicek’s statement read.

“After a tough election in 2019 against a reunited right wing, Rachel stayed on and rebuilt an incredible team during a difficult time – as a party, we came out of the pandemic stronger than ever.

“While the news of her departure is sad for many of us, there are lots of reasons to be excited, too.

“We are going to hold the most competitive leadership race in our party’s history.”

When asked about the leadership race, Notley said it is natural that caucus members are thinking about the party’s future.

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“The leadership race that is to follow is a tremendous opportunity to showcase the strength of our party, the strength of our convictions and the talent of our caucus as well as those who call themselves members of the party,” she said at Tuesday’s news conference.

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“Healthy debate is fine. It’s good, it’s renewing and it’s good for the party. What I would say to everybody is to respect the membership and to talk about the future of the people of this province.”

However, some political scientists in Alberta are concerned about the party’s future.

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said the leadership race is an opportunity for the party to set its approach and tone for the next provincial election, which is scheduled to happen in 2027.

According to Bratt, the party can take a moderate approach that had gains in Calgary in the 2023 provincial election, an ideological party that doesn’t form government or a belief that if it was more progressive they would form government.

“That’s going to be very difficult for them to do. There is no heir apparent. It will be an open leadership race. (Notley) was not pushed out, as leaders typically are that lose elections,” he told Global News.

“That’s a lot of soul searching that the party has to do … It’s not just about replacing a leader. It’s about finding a future identity of the NDP, but it’s going to be very difficult for any of these candidates to replace Notley.”

Bratt added this leadership race will be unlike any other the Alberta NDP has had before.

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“They’ve never had public scrutiny. It’s never been a heavily contested (race) … There’s going to be a lot of money. There’s going to be a lot of media coverage,” he said.

“The fact that they formed government and they’re the largest opposition in Alberta’s history … You don’t just become the leader of the official opposition, you become the potential premier in waiting. That’s why it matters.”

Janet Brown, a pollster and political commentator in Alberta, said a lot of people will be wondering what the rules are going to be in place for the leadership race.

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“Albertans are going to be looking at the rules. They’re going to look at how the NDP conducts themselves and decide whether the NDP is going to remain a viable voting option for them,” Brown told Global News.

Brown also said a hotly-contested race will also garner a lot of interest from Albertans.

“We haven’t really had a hotly-contested public NDP race. I think if there’s a lot of candidates in this race, if there’s a lot of interest, then it’ll show that the NDP has lots of strength going forward,” she added.

“Moving forward, we’ve got to see where the balance of power goes. The different leaders will bring a different tone to the party and some may find it appealing. Some may not.

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“I think that’s why Rachel Notley resigned. Now she’s going to give her party a chance to have a good competitive leadership race … We’ll know who the new leader is in the fall, and then that leader will have two years to establish themselves.”

Lori Williams, another political scientist at Mount Royal University, said Notley will be hard to replace but many people inside and outside the Alberta NDP caucus will be good candidates.

Williams said the Alberta NDP will need to elect a leader who can strike a balance between the socioeconomic realities and solving problems in the province to be successful. The leader must also be able to inspire voters and members of the party, she added.

“This is the opening of a new chapter. It will be a real test of the party that was shaped largely by Rachel Notley. Now it falls to others to continue that legacy,” Williams told Global News.

“It will be up to the next leader to persuade Albertans that they have a vision and the capacity to achieve it, as well as appeal to voters to elect them in the next election.”

–with files from Emily Mertz, Global News.

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