‘The home we need to build together’: Former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi wins Alberta NDP leadership

Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is the new leader of the Alberta NDP. As Sean Amato reports it’s a resounding victory for a man who says he’s in no rush to become an MLA. #ableg #cdnpoli

Former three-term Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi won the Alberta NDP leadership by a landslide in a single round of voting on Saturday.

He won with 62,746 votes and now leads the largest opposition party in Alberta’s history.

Addressing party faithful, Nenshi, 52, says the party has to come together.

“We need to co-create a vision for Alberta with our neighbours, in big cities, in mid-sized towns, in small rural communities everywhere in this province. We need to work with them together to create the vision of the Alberta that we all want, the home that we all need to build together,” he said.

“And friends, that’s our job. That’s our work.”

Nenshi joined the NDP late, only getting his party membership in the early months of 2024 to compete in the race. But he says his progressive values mesh with the core principles of the party, which now boasts more than 85,000 members.

Nenshi’s family immigrated to Canada from Tanzania. He made international headlines when he became the first Muslim mayor of a major North American city in 2010, and his social-media savvy helped his brand pick up steam.

He was lauded for his handling of the city’s devastating flood in 2013.

Nenshi says Alberta has always been home, noting how he lived and grew up in the province, and once again shortly after he turned 30, because “Alberta has always been home.”

“It became a home for a poor immigrant family from Africa, as it has become a home for people who had been here for thousands of generations, as we continue to build a home for people who arrived here last week,” he said.

New Alberta NDP leader Naheed Nenshi speaks with media after the announcement of his win in Calgary on Saturday, June 22, 2024. He won with 86 per cent of the vote
New Alberta NDP leader Naheed Nenshi speaks with media after the announcement of his win in Calgary on Saturday, June 22, 2024. (James Payton, CityNews image)

He also took a swing at Premier Danielle Smith and her United Conservative government. Nenshi accused Smith of seeing “Alberta as a fortress to be defended,” while his party says the province has always been a place with a “wide open welcome mat” for anyone who chooses to call it home.

“The stories I was hearing from our premier and our government, the place they were describing didn’t feel like our home. They were describing an Alberta that I didn’t recognize. They were describing an Alberta that is so very, very small. And in Alberta, we are many things but we’re not small,” Nenshi said.

“They were describing an Alberta where everyone is against us, an Alberta where we need to fight outsiders all the time. An Alberta where we should be scared of change instead of embracing and leading the future.

“That is not Alberta. Alberta is not small. Alberta is not small-minded. Because as we all know, it is impossible to think small under a sky that big.

“But Danielle Smith and the UCP want us to be small. They want us to be small because they think small. They see Alberta as a fortress to be defended. But what Alberta has always been — is a wide open door with a welcome mat. Inviting the best people and the best ideas from every corner of this broken earth to live a great Alberta life right here.”

While he says Smith claims she is the “most freedom-loving politician in Canada,” Nenshi argued she “hasn’t done a blessed thing to protect anybody’s freedoms,” instead saying she is the “most power-loving politician.”

He continued by saying the current government has taken freedoms away from teachers, doctors, nurses, landowners, researchers, and citizens, while erasing the “freedom to disagree with the premier on anything.”

“There’s no room for Sevā — or service in Danielle Smith’s tiny Alberta. But there is room for service in our hearts, in our hands, in our minds, and especially in our voices. And we will use those voices to fight for the Alberta that we want, the Alberta we need and the Alberta that future generations deserve.”

Nenshi was seen as the frontrunner for the leadership with membership sales spiking after he joined the race.

But speculation had been building since mid-January when Rachel Notley said she would be stepping down as leader of the Official Opposition after a decade at the party’s head.

Sporting an Edmonton Oilers jersey, Notley gave a farewell speech to party members Friday night in Calgary.

Along with Nenshi, three other candidates ran for the leadership bid: former cabinet ministers Sarah Hoffman and Kathleen Ganley, and rookie legislature member Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse.

Nearly 73,000 NDP members voted in the leadership race, with Nenshi claiming close to 90 per cent of the vote.

Ganley received 5,899 votes, Hoffman received 3,063 votes, and Calahoo Stonehouse received 1,222 votes. 

Over 50 per cent of eligible ballots cast was needed for the ranked preferential ballot system the party is using.

Throughout the leadership race, the party’s membership has grown exponentially — last month, the party said its total membership had reached 85,144.

On Dec. 31, 2023, the party had 16,224 members.

“We are now over 85,000 members strong and we will continue building this movement,” said Nenshi in a statement released following the announcement.

“Together, we will work hard to show our friends and neighbours that they have a home in the Alberta NDP and, in 2027, we will deliver a smarter and more capable government that respects all Albertans.”

Watch: Rachel Notley delivers farewell speech in Calgary

While Nenshi has become the new leader of the Opposition, he doesn’t hold a seat in the legislature.

With NDP MLA Shannon Phillips’ Lethbridge seat becoming vacant in July, he told reporters at a news conference following the announcement he’s willing to keep an open mind about running there. However, the former Calgary mayor said he doesn’t know Lethbridge all too well.

“I think that every constituency in the province deserves an MLA that is present, deserves an MLA that speaks for their best interests,” he said.

He said he would consider running outside of Calgary, but when it comes to the general election, he is eyeing a seat in Calgary.

“I would love to be able to run and represent my city,” he said.

Nenshi has come under fire by some in the party as an opportunistic johnny-come-lately with political leanings more Liberal red than NDP orange.

However, he has dismissed the criticism, saying his values are core Alberta ones.

He has also sparked debate on the future identity of the Alberta NDP, questioning whether it should retain membership ties with its federal counterpart.

Nenshi’s political brand has always been purple — neither conservative blue nor Liberal red, which is particularly evident in his attire in and outside political office.

He has said it’s an invitation for voters to set aside their tribalism. And during the NDP leadership race, he’s added splashes of NDP orange to his wardrobe.

With files from Nadia Moharib and The Canadian Press

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