Calgary Herald

NDP leadership hopefuls make pitch to Calgarians

Some challenged ex-mayor Nenshi over 2019 privatizat­ion intentions

- MATT SCACE

It was a largely cordial Alberta NDP leadership debate in Calgary Saturday afternoon as the five candidates running to head the Official Opposition made their pitch to Alberta's most populous city. The few tense moments on stage at the BMO Centre revolved around former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi's track record leading the city, which he brushed aside, explaining his decisions as pragmatic and sometimes difficult.

A little over 1,000 people attended Saturday's debate, officials estimated, as Alberta NDP members heard from the five candidates running for the leadership: Edmonton representa­tives Sarah Hoffman and Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) president Gil Mcgowan, Calgary MLA Kathleen Ganley and Nenshi.

After taking questions from the crowd, candidates were singled out to debate each other on questions from moderators.

While the format lent itself to more duet-style debate in which candidates largely displayed agreement over various issues, Mcgowan asked Nenshi to explain a letter made public earlier in the week in which the former mayor asked the provincial government in 2019 to help the city plan to sell off public services to private operators. In the letter, Nenshi also asked the province to allow new owners of sold-off entities not to be bound by existing collective agreements.

Responding to Mcgowan asking whether the letter was a “trustbuste­r,” Nenshi said he sent the letter as a pragmatic decision knowing the province wouldn't grant his request and promised he would “never tear up a collective agreement.”

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Nenshi said he spoke with several labour leaders earlier in the week who expressed to him that they wished he'd informed them at the time of the letter.

Mcgowan later said the letter remains “a real red flag” despite Nenshi's explanatio­n.

“What I heard today was an explanatio­n, not an apology,” Mcgowan said.

Recent media reports from CBC and The Globe and Mail have said the Alberta NDP'S party has grown to more than 85,000 members, up from the about 16,000 members reported at the end of 2023. Nenshi said he's heard similar figures

It's likely that growth has diluted the party's labour vote, Nenshi said, adding that fact doesn't change the party's priorities.

Leadership hopeful Sarah Hoffman, considered alongside Nenshi as one of the front-runners, took Nenshi to task over Midfield Mobile Home Park, which was demolished between 2018 and 2019. Residents of the area were promised a new mobile home park in East Hills, which was suddenly off the table, while they were offered buyouts or moving-cost expenses from the city.

“Sometimes the easy answers are not the easy answers, sometimes you've got to sit with people and find solutions for each individual rather than relying only on your ideology,” Nenshi said during the tense back-and-forth. Afterwards, Nenshi said the conversati­on on Midfield has already been litigated at length. “It feels a bit grasping,” he said. After the debate, Hoffman said she was hoping to hear an apology from Nenshi.

“I am concerned that we have someone who isn't going to bring us (to form government),” Hoffman said. “I want somebody who's going to own their values.”

Ganley, the lone Calgary MLA running for leader, said she hasn't seen candidates propose as many concrete ideas as she hoped in recent weeks, singling out Nenshi for not having enough clear proposals.

“I voted for Naheed as mayor three times in a row — I have nothing but respect for him. I'd like to see that vision replicated in the provincial arena,” Ganley said.

Nenshi has said several times during the campaign that he will leave several decisions to members and that it's difficult to make decisions three years out from an election.

“We don't know what hell the UCP is going to wreak on us in three years. I don't want to make promises today that cannot be fulfilled in three years,” he said.

Current leader Rachel Notley announced in January that she would be stepping down from her post as party leader, and will stay on until the June leadership vote.

The next debate is scheduled for June 2 in Edmonton. NDP members will start voting on June 3 and the party will announce its new leader a three weeks later, on June 22.

 ?? ?? Naheed Nenshi
Naheed Nenshi

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