Ex-Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi joins NDP leadership race to combat "immoral" UCP

CALGARY — Former Calgary Naheed Nenshi came out of political retirement on Monday, announcing a run for Alberta's NDP leadership to challenge what he termed an “immoral” United Conservative government.

"This government is like nothing I've ever seen before,” Nenshi told The Canadian Press in an interview prior to the announcement.

“They're not only incompetent. They're dangerous and they're immoral.”

Nenshi, 52, was elected mayor of Calgary in 2010 and won three terms before deciding to bow out before the 2021 municipal election.

He said it was time to come back and choose a side.

"We need to do better and so many Albertans from every corner of this province … have just said, 'You know what? It's time to throw your hat in. We need someone who can bring hope back to Alberta.'"

Nenshi spoke out against Premier Danielle Smith’s government as recently as last month, criticizing new policies surrounding transgender Albertans, including parental notification if children want to change their names or pronouns at school.

Nenshi said his name recognition may help in the race, but said he doesn't see himself as the favourite.

"I'm not the front-runner at all because these four incredibly smart, incredibly capable women have been out there for a month already," he said.

"I haven't sold a single membership. I'm starting from way back, but I'm good at being an underdog and figuring out how to win from there."

NDP members are to choose a successor for longtime party leader Rachel Notley in June.

There are now six candidates vying to lead the party, which after last year’s election became the largest Opposition in provincial history.

The first to announce was Calgary legislature member Kathleen Ganley, who served as justice minister in Notley’s government.

Until Monday, she was the sole candidate in Alberta’s largest city, a key electoral battleground. She took aim at a potential Nenshi run in recent media interviews, saying Nenshi gave a “tepid” endorsement to the NDP during the last election and that she doubts he can lead the party to victory in 2027.

One of Notley’s key lieutenants, former deputy premier and current Edmonton legislature member Sarah Hoffman, is also in the race. She has said she would not support a consumer carbon levy, like the one the NDP brought in when it was in government, because the idea no longer has public buy-in.

Rakhi Pancholi, another high-profile Edmonton legislature member vying for the leadership, has also said she would weigh a move away from the consumer carbon levy.

Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, a first-term member in Edmonton, is running on a campaign she has promised will focus on climate change and drought.

Longtime Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan announced on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, last week that he has joined the race, but that his campaign’s official launch had been put off due to a case of COVID.

Notley announced her plans to step down in January after a decade at the helm of the provincial New Democrats. She has said she would not be endorsing any candidate to replace her.

The NDP's May 2023 election loss was the second in a row under Notley. Her party ended a 44-year Progressive Conservative dynasty in 2015 with a surprise majority government only to be trounced four years later by Jason Kenney's UCP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2024.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press