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NDP leadership debate focused on recruitment and path to 2027 success

The last NDP leadership debate was held in Edmonton on Sunday, with candidates largely focused on how to build the party ahead of the 2027 election. 

The conversation between the four remaining contenders – Jody Calahoo Stonehouse, Kathleen Ganley, Naheed Nenshi and Sarah Hoffman – was a peaceful one.

“It was remarkably dust-up free,” said Nenshi, who was pressed hard on labour relations in past debates

Hoffman focused on health, climate and housing. Though she also brought up cutting public dollars for private and charter schools. 

Calahoo Stonehouse remained centered on a diversified economy, education and the environment. 

Nenshi focused on expanding and strengthening the party’s membership, as well as housing and income support. 

Ganley shared her message of building “a bigger tent,” affordability measures and a greater focus more on platform building (rather than critiques of the UCP). 

All the candidates’ full platforms can be found on their websites.

Recruitment

Over two hours, the leadership hopefuls took questions from the public, moderators and each other.

With the Alberta NDP recently growing to the largest NDP chapter in Canada at 85,000 members, the topic of recruitment came up several times.

Hoffman said she believes a unified message and good old fashioned door knocking are key to continuing to build the party.

“One of the ways that we do that is by making sure that we’re out there talking to and recruiting fantastic rural candidates,” Hoffman said. “When people say, ‘Why did you join the NDP?’ The answer is, ‘Because somebody asked me to.’ And that’s what we need to do.”

Calahoo Stonehouse said the party also needs to learn more from voters who choose other parties.

“We have to have those uncomfortable conversations with the person who didn’t vote for us and ask them why,” she added. “We visit, and we listen when we tell them, ‘This is what I heard. Am I right?'”

Nenshi said more work needs to be done to recruit missing demographics, like young men.

More effort, he said, also needs to go into unique strategies for ridings outside the province’s big cities.

“It starts number one by not assuming that rural Alberta is one thing,” he said. “We have to ensure that when we show up, we’re supporting our local volunteers and our local candidates.”

Ganley agreed that local efforts are critical in drumming up support across municipalities outside the big centres and widening the path to a 2027 win.

“We do that by making sure that we’re building our local teams, that we’re respecting those local voices,” she added. “We also give them an economic offer to take to the doors.

“We talk to people about what is most important to them, with local folks who they trust.”

Federal ties

The relationship with the federal NDP was also a topic of discussion.

Hoffman said the colour orange is a symbol of the shared values of the two parties.

“I’m proud of where the federal party stands on many, many issues. And there are things where I’m not proud, and I will tell them, because we are a family,” she said.

Nenshi was clear that he believes ties to Jagmeet Singh’s party will hurt Alberta’s New Democrats. He said the party needs to attract voters from across federal parties.

“We have to be able to be attractive to folks who may not want to cast their ballot for the Federal NDP,” Nenshi said. “I want to be in control of our own destiny and not tie ourselves to people whose values we may not share.”

Ganley and Stonehouse-Calahoo both said that’s a conversation for the party’s membership to have.

“Of course we care about PharmaCare, as Kathleen pointed out. Of course we want to make sure there’s affordable housing,” Calahoo Stonehouse said. “We differentiate on Alberta energy policy and that’s where we’re going to have to have a hard discussion.”

“Ultimately, this is a question for the membership of the party, and I would let party members have that debate,” Ganley said.

Go oilers

With the debate just hours before the puck dropped at Rogers Place for Game 6 against the Dallas Stars, Hoffman used her question to grill the candidates on their game-time attire.

“I am very, very excited for you all, but I have to admit I don’t own a hockey jersey of any type,” Ganley said, while Nenshi pulled out a McDavid jersey, Calahoo Stonehouse said she’ll be sporting Grant Fuhr’s number.

Voters will have a ranked ballot when voting opens Monday. None of the candidates after the debate chose to share their second-choice for leader of the party.

“I thought they all did great today,” Nenshi said.

“It’s going to be a tough choice,” Ganley said.

“There’s no second choice,” Calahoo Stonehouse. “I’m the one.”

“We’ll find out where everyone lands on the 22nd,” Hoffman said.

 

   

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