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Sarah Hoffman third NDP MLA to join party leadership race

Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman is running for leader of the Alberta NDP. (Manuel Carrillos Avalos/CBC - image credit)
Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman is running for leader of the Alberta NDP. (Manuel Carrillos Avalos/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman is resistant to the notion that an Alberta NDP with her as leader would be like Rachel Notley's party.

Hoffman on Sunday made official what was well-known in political circles, becoming the third MLA vying to replace outgoing Opposition leader Rachel Notley.

"I've never thought of myself as part of the establishment," Hoffman said during an embargoed interview before launching her leadership campaign Sunday.

"I've thought of myself as somebody who isn't your typical candidate. Women like me aren't supposed to be in politics. I'm fat, I'm sassy. And I have a really hard time trying to be something that I'm not."

Notley announced in January that she would step aside as party leader, after nearly a decade at the helm. Since then, Calgary-Mountain View MLA, lawyer and former justice minister Kathleen Ganley and Edmonton-Whitemud MLA and lawyer Rakhi Pancholi have also launched party leadership bids.

Alberta politics blogger, commentator and podcaster Dave Cournoyer says Hoffman has deep roots in the party.

"Sarah Hoffman was a New Democrat before it was cool to be a New Democrat in Alberta," Cournoyer told CBC News.

A child of educators, Hoffman grew up in Kinuso, Alta., a hamlet of about 150 people surrounded by the Swan River First Nation, about 235 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

The 43-year-old has post-secondary degrees in religion, math and education, and worked as a teacher before becoming a researcher for the NDP.

Hoffman was chair of the Edmonton public school board, then deputy premier and health minister in Notley's government starting in 2015.

Driving the late federal NDP leader Jack Layton around Edmonton in her Honda Civic, when he dropped in to woo voters, is among Hoffman's highlights from her early days as a party volunteer.

NDP should take bolder stance on climate change: Hoffman

Some progressives are pushing the Alberta NDP to change its name and sever ties with the federal party, but Hoffman has no appetite for that.

"I don't think there are any shortcuts to forming government," she said. "I don't want to try to trick people into voting for us by doing some rebranding exercise."

Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman prepares to launch her Alberta NDP leadership campaign in Edmonton on Feb. 9, 2024.
Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman prepares to launch her Alberta NDP leadership campaign in Edmonton on Feb. 9, 2024.

Hoffman launched her leadership campaign in Edmonton Sunday morning. (Manuel Carrillos Avalos)

Her leadership campaign slogan, emblazoned onto banners, reads, "Health, climate, housing."

As wildfire smoke lingered during the provincial election campaign last spring, Hoffman said the Alberta NDP should have campaigned on doing more to prevent climate change.

Danielle Smith's United Conservative Party won the May 29 election, winning 49 seats in the legislature to the NDP's 38. One MLA who ran under the UCP banner sits as an independent after her hateful past comments surfaced.

Election gains in Calgary are attributable to NDP MLAs spending more time there, Hoffman said. But the party didn't show up enough elsewhere.

"I'm excited to take my rural roots — and my experience having been in government, and my values — to work my ass off in this campaign and be in every part of the province," she said.

Like Pancholi, Hoffman said Albertans' appetite for a consumer carbon tax is gone. She pointed a finger at the federal Liberal government for applying the levy lopsidedly to fuels.

Hoffman will unveil more detailed platform announcements in the weeks and months to come, she said.

Her experience in government and reputation as a politically tough, hard worker would be assets existing NDP members would favour when choosing a leader, Cournoyer said.

But members question whether the party needs a leader from Calgary — or at least outside Edmonton — to win enough provincial support to form government, he added.

Members prioritizing geography might favour Ganley over Edmonton-based Hoffman and Pancholi, he said.

If former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi steps into the race, his national name recognition would upend everything, Cournoyer said.

On Friday, Edmonton-Centre MLA David Shepherd said he had wanted to run for party leader, but health challenges had interfered with those plans.

Party members will have a month to vote, from May 22 to June 22, by mail-in ballot, phone or online. The party plans to announce its new leader on June 22.