Edmonton MLA Rakhi Pancholi launches NDP leadership bid

Edmonton MLA Rakhi Pancholi launched her bid for the leadership of the Alberta NDP on Thursday.  (Rick Bremness/CBC  - image credit)
Edmonton MLA Rakhi Pancholi launched her bid for the leadership of the Alberta NDP on Thursday. (Rick Bremness/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi has entered to the race to replace Rachel Notley as leader of the Alberta NDP.

Pancholi, who was first elected to the Alberta Legislature in 2019, joins Calgary-Mountain View MLA Kathleen Ganley and Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman in the leadership race.

Pancholi launched her campaign Thursday morning in a two-and-half-minute video posted to her campaign website and shared on social media.

In an interview with CBC News, Pancholi said she wants to broaden the appeal of the NDP to a wider range of Albertans, including the thousands of newcomers to the province who don't feel tied to the party's old way of doing things.

"They view the Alberta NDP as the progressive alternative to the government and that can stand a very real chance of forming government again," she said.

"And so we have to be able to respond to all those different views."

Pancholi said she supports looking at other ways to fight climate change that don't include a consumer carbon tax. She said the majority of Albertans are still opposed to the measure. Opposition to the tax has become a political football in the current government's fight with the federal Liberal government.

"We hear the current provincial government talking a lot about their opposition to the consumer carbon tax and using that as an excuse to not actually propose anything meaningful to take action on climate change," Pancholi said.

"I know Albertans are absolutely committed to taking action on climate change and we know that there are lots of other things we can do."

In launching her campaign Monday, Ganley played up her position as a Calgary candidate. The NDP has been viewed as an Edmonton party over the past 20 years. Every seat in the capital city went to the party in the 2023 election.

While the NDP made major inroads into Calgary, winning 14 of the city's 26 seats, observers say the party needs to make inroads into smaller cities — including Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray — to be in a better position.

Pancholi said it doesn't matter where a leader is from as long they address common issues such as the availability of public health care and public education, the cost of living, affordable housing and climate change.

NDP members will choose a new leader on June 22.

Pancholi has outsider vibe: political scientist

Political scientist Lisa Young at the University of Calgary said Pancholi is positioning herself as a bit of an outsider to the party, unlike Ganley and Hoffman, who were part of the NDP government.

Young said Pancholi can get away with dismissing a consumer carbon tax because she wasn't part of the group that originally approved it.

" I do think that she has thought carefully about how to position herself relative to the Notley government and in some ways to cut some of those associations," she said.

Youngsaid she hears a veiled criticism of the 2023 NDP election campaign in Pancholi's emphasis on being fresh, positive and forward-looking. She said the NDP focused on Danielle Smith's past statements, trying to paint her as too extreme, the same strategy they tried using in the 2019 election. The effort failed both times.

The dynamics of the NDP leadership race could change profoundly if former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi decides to run, as has been rumoured. 

Young said Pancholi's video reminded her a little of when Nenshi entered the mayor's race in 2010, as he also was an outsider at the time.