New Alberta NDP leader Nenshi outlines priorities as party names Opposition leader

Entering his first full week as leader of Alberta's New Democrats, Naheed Nenshi on Monday laid out his initial roadmap for the party and outlined new roles for some caucus members.

On Saturday, the former Calgary mayor garnered 86 per cent of votes from party members, easily securing victory as the new leader of the Alberta NDP.

Though he now leads the party, Nenshi does not hold a seat in the legislature. That means he can't yet fill the role of Opposition leader, a position left vacant with the departure of former party leader Rachel Notley.

"I'm in no rush to gain a seat in the legislature because I actually think that, having not been in the legislature before, having been in politics in a different way, I bring a set of fresh eyes to the situation," Nenshi told reporters Monday.

While Nenshi and party officials zero in on a possible seat, Christina Gray, House leader of the NDP and MLA for Edmonton-Mill Woods, will hold the title of leader of the Official Opposition. Gray will also remain House leader.

"This is an exciting time for our caucus and movement, and we are looking forward to continuing to fight for a better future for all Albertans," Gray said in a statement.

NDP House Leader Christina Gray is accusing the government of deliberately curbing debate on three controversial bills.
NDP MLA Christina Gray will be the Official Opposition leader as party leader Naheed Nenshi seeks a seat in the Alberta legislature. (Alberta NDP Caucus)

Edmonton-Whitemud MLA Rakhi Pancholi, who was a part of the NDP leadership race before dropping out to endorse Nenshi, will be the deputy leader.

Speculation has pinpointed Lethbridge-West as a possible option for Nenshi. That seat will be vacated July 1 by former NDP environment minister Shannon Phillips, who announced her resignation earlier this month.

Speaking Monday on the Calgary Eyeopener, Nenshi said he likely wouldn't run in that riding.

"Probably not. I will have some good conversations with the people in Lethbridge about what they're thinking about," Nenshi said.

"But I believe that we really should have MLAs that are able to spend time in their constituency, that are able to represent them."

Nenshi said no other changes would be made in the House leadership or critic roles at this time.

Sketching out first priorities

As was the case during the leadership campaign, discussion around the future of the provincial NDP's affiliation with the federal party was of key focus in Nenshi's first few days as leader.

He told reporters on Saturday it was possible party members could make a decision on that front at a party convention next spring, and reiterated such a timeline Monday on CBC's Alberta@Noon.

"It's quite possible, if we move quickly, that we can get direction this fall and bring it to a vote for the members in the spring. But that's all yet to be sorted," he said.

Lisa Young, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, said it's clear this is an issue the party will need to grapple with, given the party's long ties to the federal NDP.

"They are the people who have built this party from almost nothing into a large Official Opposition. So, I think they will expect their voices to be heard and taken seriously," she said.

"I think this does present a tricky issue for Nenshi to stickhandle in his first weeks in the role."

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith gestures to an audience member while speaking at a fireside chat with True North journalist Andrew Lawton (not pictured) during the Canada Strong and Free Network event in Ottawa, on Friday, April 12, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is pictured in a file photo. In the first quarter of 2024, the UCP raised $2.26 million while the NDP raised $1.01 million. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

Nenshi was also asked on Alberta@Noon about how he'd approach unequal fundraising numbers given the United Conservative Party's advantage.

In the first quarter of 2024, the UCP raised $2.26 million, while the NDP raised $1.01 million. Nenshi noted that those numbers are somewhat misleading given that donors would have contributed directly to the campaigns of those in the leadership race.

"We do need the money to be able to run the system well, and we're going up against a very well-funded, very well-oiled machine in the UCP," Nenshi said.

"I was able to win the mayorship twice against people who were vastly more funded than I was. But we also need to be able to raise the funds to print the signs and do the calling and get the volunteers in place."

Position on consumer carbon tax

During his media availability Monday, Nenshi was also asked by reporters whether he'd seek an exemption to the consumer carbon tax, similar to a move taken by Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew.

Nenshi said there had been a "real challenge" around how the federal government had managed the file, particularly when it came to the exemption on home heating oil. Should the federal Liberals remain in power, Nenshi didn't rule out a provincial takeover of the tax.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, meanwhile, has promised to "axe the tax" if he wins the next federal election. Nenshi said he was waiting to hear more details of Poilievre's carbon plan.

"He has suggested that he wants to move to carbon neutrality by 2050. Every economist will tell you that a carbon price is the most efficient way of moving to carbon neutrality," Nenshi said.

"But if he's got better ideas that don't involve a consumer price on carbon, I'm happy to hear them and I'm happy to align Alberta to make sure that we're not working at cross-purposes with the federal government as well. But we've got to get to those net-zero goals."

Nenshi said he'll spend the next week holding one-on-one meetings with caucus members before attending the Ponoka Stampede. He said much of the summer will be spent travelling to various events across the province.