A political balancing act

Jared Milne
3 min readJun 4, 2024


Left: Naheed Nenshi in 2024 (Facebook/Naheed Nenshi) Right: Danielle Smith in July 2022 (Shutterstock/Wirestock Creators)

The race to replace Rachel Notley as Alberta NDP leader is almost over. The most noteworthy event in the race by far has been former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s entry into the race. Nenshi’s entry generated a huge amount of media attention, a lot of attacks on social media from United Conservative Party supporters and a staggering increase in the party’s membership from 16,224 people at the end of 2023 to over 85,144 members. Nenshi has a lot of recognition even from people who don’t usually follow politics, but he also doesn’t have many roots in the party he now wants to lead.

Nenshi’s candidacy illustrates one of the biggest challenges political parties face. How do they keep their base motivated and happy while also reaching out to the swing voters they typically need to win an election?

Involvement in a political party can mean a lot in a leadership race. Rachel Notley has deep roots in the NDP, from her father Grant’s 16-year leadership to her own years working for the party before becoming a candidate. Meanwhile, Nenshi is renowned for using the colour purple as a political symbol, which he uses to represent non-partisanship and rejecting political tribalism.

Some longtime NDP supporters wonder whether Nenshi will adhere to the NDP’s traditional support for workers and labour issues. Nenshi’s rival and former Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said as much when he dropped out of the race, saying that the NDP needed to reconnect with workers who’ve defected to the UCP. A party’s base is often its biggest source of donations, volunteers and committed voters on election day. If they’re unhappy with what the party’s doing, they’re often a lot less helpful than they could be.

On the other hand, political parties need more than their bases to win. Rachel Notley’s 2015 victory came in part from winning seats in parts of Alberta that aren’t traditional NDP territory. Some of Notley’s actions as premier, notably her support for new pipelines, no doubt came from wanting to retain those seats. Those actions also got her heat from traditional NDPers in other parts of Canada who thought she violated some of the NDP’s major principles.

Obviously, Nenshi and the NDP aren’t the only ones who face this balancing act. Premier Danielle Smith is heavily dependent on the Take Back Alberta movement that’s inserted itself into the UCP, but TBA supporters aren’t enough to win an election by themselves. Some pundits suggested that Smith’s 2023 election victory came from moving back towards the centre, but suspicions about TBA’s agenda likely played a role in the UCP losing 14 seats and over 113,000 votes compared to its 2019 totals.

Whoever becomes the NDP’s leader, whether it’s Nenshi or someone else, will have to figure it out if they hope to beat Danielle Smith in 2027.

Originally published at https://www.stalbertgazette.com on June 4, 2024.



Jared Milne

Passionately devoted to Canadian unity. Fascinated by Canadian politics and history. Striving to understand the mysteries of Canada. Publishes every few weeks.