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Kathleen Ganley first to declare bid for Alberta NDP leadership as contest kicks off

Three-term MLA and former Alberta justice minister Kathleen Ganley, middle, announced Monday she would seek the leadership of Alberta's New Democrats. The race to replace Rachel Notley kicked off Monday. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
Three-term MLA and former Alberta justice minister Kathleen Ganley, middle, announced Monday she would seek the leadership of Alberta's New Democrats. The race to replace Rachel Notley kicked off Monday. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

Former Alberta justice minister and three-term Calgary MLA Kathleen Ganley officially launched a bid to become the next leader of Alberta's New Democrats on Monday, becoming first in the race to replace departing leader Rachel Notley.

Notley announced in mid-January she would step down as party leader as soon as the members choose her replacement. Under the rules of the leadership contest, which kicked off today, candidates who want to run must register before March 15.

Speaking to reporters at the Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary on Monday, Ganley said her campaign would zero in on delivering a message tied to the NDP's economic strategy, among other measures.

"What this province needs is less drama. It needs experienced, competent leadership focused on what matters," Ganley said. "That's what this team will deliver."

When asked by a reporter whether she was interested in launching talks on the future of the provincial NDP's relationship with the federal NDP, Ganley said she was open to having that conversation with members.

"I think the concerns of members, especially when you hear them repeatedly, are very valid," she said.

Ganley's leadership bid was widely expected by political observers. In early January, before Notley's resignation, Ganley posted a 55-second leadership-style video on X, formerly known as Twitter, discussing her background growing up in northwest Calgary and her recognition of the various challenges facing Albertans.

First out of the gate with a focus on Calgary

One of the things that has set Ganley apart is a strategy of being first, said Lisa Young, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.

"I think that Ganley wants to, in a sense, corner the market on being the Calgary candidate. She is distinctive in this race, given the discussion of the potential front-runners, as the candidate who comes from Calgary," Young said.

"She has history in the party, she has ministerial experience, and she is going to probably have quite a bit of support from Calgary MLAs — a real sort of coming together as the Calgary candidate."

Though the party enjoys a strong base of support in Edmonton, expanding support in Calgary will be a key priority for the NDP in the next provincial election, Young noted.

The big question mark moving forward is in regards to speculation as to whether or not former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi will join the race, which would change the race's trajectory.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks after receiving an award from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the Public Policy Testimonial Dinner in Toronto on Thursday, April 20, 2017. Calgary's mayor is attacking Ontario Premier Doug Ford's plans to cut the number of Toronto city councillors and cancel votes for other municipal elections. Naheed Nenshi says Ford made no mention of the plan during the recent campaign and he calls the premier's move "tinpot dictator stuff." THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is pictured in a file photo. Nenshi has been rumoured to be considering a bid for the leadership of the Alberta NDP. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

"It takes away from Kathleen Ganley's claim that she is the Calgary candidate. It changes the terrain of the contest," Young said.

"If we think back to the UCP leadership contest, there were moments where it seemed like all of the leadership contestants were opposing Danielle Smith as this outsider. I think we might see a dynamic similar to that if Nenshi does jump into the race."

In the previous election, the Alberta NDP picked up seats in Calgary after being nearly wiped off the board in 2019.

Race will run until June

Ganley's fellow former cabinet minister Sarah Hoffman and second-term MLA Rakhi Pancholi are also expected to be contestants in the race to replace Notley, and Edmonton MLAs David Shepherd and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse are said to be considering bids.

One of the big questions moving forward will be the issue of who can take on Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, Young said.

"We're going to see all of the front-running candidates trying to demonstrate that they are the person who can counter Danielle Smith's very powerful communication abilities," she said.

"So it'll be interesting to see the ways that that plays out in Alberta politics over the next two or three months."

To vote in the race, members must purchase or renew a membership by April 22. The race will have a spending limit of $500,000 per leadership contestant, with an entry fee of $60,000.

The final day for voting in the leadership race will be June 22 at noon.

In the 2023 Alberta election, the United Conservative Party took 52.6 per cent of the vote compared to the NDP's 44 per cent.